Sir Philip Green—owner of Topshop and many other famous British brands—has been revealed as the mystery British businessman at the center of a sexual harassment story whose name the Telegraph was blocked from revealing, thanks to a protective thicket of NDAs. The twist is that what circumvented this legal strategy was literally a member of the House of Lords standing up and using his “parliamentary privilege” to just come right out and say it.
The Telegraph reported on October 24 that they’d spent months reporting out a story “investigating allegations of bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment” against somebody identified only as “a leading businessman.” The paper explained:
By the summer, The Telegraph was satisfied it had enough material to publish a story about how the businessman had settled substantial claims with employees who had accused him of sexual harassment and racism. It later became apparent that some employees had signed NDAs in their settlements, which meant they could face legal action and the loss of any payout by speaking publicly about their experiences.
Ultimately, the Telegraph was “prevented from revealing details of the non-disclosure deals by Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, the second most senior judge in England and Wales.” Investigations editor Claire Newell explained the legal maneuvering at work:
Unlike his alleged victims, The Telegraph has not signed any kind of NDA with the businessman. It has argued there is a clear public interest in publishing the claims, not least to alert those who might be applying to work for him. However, the Court of Appeal has, so far, ruled against this newspaper which, like the alleged victims, now finds itself gagged.
The accused man has hired a team of at least seven lawyers and spent close to £500,000 in legal fees to persuade the Court of Appeal to injunct The Telegraph. He is being represented by Schillings, the legal firm which has also worked with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lance Armstrong and Ryan Giggs, individuals who have controversially made use of NDAs or injunctions to silence accusations of wrongdoing.
In response, the Telegraph published a story about the fact that they couldn’t publish their story. At which point Lord Peter Hain, a former leader of the House of Commons and current member of the House of Lords stood up on the floor of Parliament and—invoking his “parliamentary privilege,” which “grants certain legal immunities for Members of both Houses to allow them to perform their duties without interference from outside of the House”—identified the man in question as Sir Philip Green, owner of Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop and other companies. The Telegraph quoted him:
My Lords, having been contacted by someone intimately involved in the case of a powerful businessman using non-disclosure agreements and substantial payments to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying, which is compulsively continuing, I feel it’s my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of this story which is clearly in the public interest.
In June of 2018, the Times of London published a piece pulling details from a new biography of Green, Damaged Goods, alleging racist remarks and bullying of female staff.
So, a prominent British businessman was enlisting the second-most powerful judge in England and Wales to block reporting on sexual harassment allegations; a peer was able to just step around it. The British class system is alive and well and very, very confusing.