12:37, September 17 311 0 theguardian.com

2018-09-17 12:37:10
Ex-BHS owner trying to rewrite history, court told

Lawyers acting for the former BHS owner Dominic Chappell should not be allowed to “muddy the water” with irrelevant information, the appeal against his pensions convictions has heard.

Three times-bankrupt Chappell, 51, was ordered to pay more than £87,000, including a £50,000 fine, after being found guilty in January of failing to provide information to the Pensions Regulator (TPR) about the firm’s pensions schemes when it collapsed with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Opening TPR’s case at an appeal hearing at Hove crown court on Monday, the barrister Alex Stein said he did not want the proceedings to be hijacked by attempts to enter into evidence information that was irrelevant to the charges in question.

He said: “An attempt to muddy the water and draw in irrelevant material [is] nothing more than a cynical attempt to rewrite history.”

Chappell, the director of Retail Acquisitions, bought British Home Stores for £1 from the billionaire Sir Philip Green in March 2015. BHS went into administration in April 2016, leaving a £571m pension deficit. Green later agreed to pay £363m towards this.

TPR investigated concerns about two pension schemes representing 19,000 members of staff. Stein said the crux of the prosecution’s case was that Chappell failed to respond to three statutory notices demanding information.

Chappell was issued with two notices known as section 72s under the Pensions Act 2004, in March and April 2016, before being handed a warning notice in November that year.

The self-described entrepreneur, who lives near Blandford Forum in Dorset, claimed he did “everything and more” to help the regulator. But he was prosecuted and found guilty of three charges after a four-day trial.

Stein said: “Despite the appellant [Chappell] confirming he received the final section 72 notice, there has never been any response to it whatsoever.”

Michael Levy, defending, told the court Chappell believed the notices had been responded to and he previously argued the task was impossible to complete in the timeframe given.

Stein said it was important Chappell provided a reasonable excuse for failing to comply. He said there had been “promises of witnesses and evidence to support his case” but none had materialised.

Chappell said he was ill and travelling abroad during the period in question, claiming this prevented him from assisting investigators. But no medical evidence or travel logs had so far been provided, Stein added.

He also told the court there was no evidence of Chappell being unable to access paperwork after claiming he was locked out of BHS offices when liquidators moved in.

Chappell’s defence team previously said three witnesses would be called to attest to his version of events in court, including his solicitor, Adrian Ring, who was present at the trial.

This prompted claims Ring could have a conflict of interest in being called as a witness.

On Monday Levy told the judge Christine Henson QC, who is overseeing the hearing with two magistrates, that no defence witnesses would be called during the proceedings. It is still unclear whether Chappell will be called to give evidence.

The appeal continues on Monday afternoon and could last until Friday.