Philip Green (pictured in London) has dropped his lawsuit against the Telegraph
Sir Philip Green has dropped a lawsuit over sexual harassment claims made against him as it would have done more harm than good to his public image, the High Court has heard.
He was named in Parliament last year as the British businessman accused of sexual harassment against employees.
He has paid out to settle some of the claims out of court but warned of ‘further legal action’ if the alleged victims broke non-disclosure agreements.
Seeking permission to discontinue proceedings today, lawyers representing the Topshop owner and two of his companies told Mr Justice Warby that going ahead with a trial would have been ‘worse’ than ending the action.
James Price QC said the decision was prompted by Lord Hain’s identification of Sir Philip in the House of Lords in October last year, a day after the Daily Telegraph ran a front-page story saying it was prevented from naming a ‘mystery businessman’.
He said the article described the case as ‘the British Me Too scandal’ and compared Sir Philip to Harvey Weinstein.
The US film mogul has been accused of a number of serious sex offences, while the allegations against Sir Philip reported in the newspaper were of sexual harassment.
Sir Philip Green with his daughter, Chloe Green, and his wife, Lady Tina Green in New York
The barrister told the court: ‘So the position once Sir Philip … was revealed was that public perception (of him) was a great deal worse than the actuality, so that the continuation of confidentiality would curiously have produced the result of concealing the facts which would correct the public image.’
He added: ‘Keeping the lid on all this was worse than not.’
Mr Justice Warby said he will give a ruling on the case after hearing further argument on Thursday.
The injunction was first sought after Sir Philip and an executive at his Arcadia firm were contacted by a Telegraph journalist in July last year.
The newspaper intended to publish allegations of misconduct made against Sir Philip by the employees – who all received substantial payments after settling their claims.
In all five cases, the employees had agreed to keep the details of their complaints confidential under non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
The injunction was initially refused by a High Court judge, but was later granted by the Court of Appeal in October pending a full trial of the issues, which was due to begin on February 4.
Mr Price said the reason for not dropping the litigation immediately after Lord Hain’s revelation was that it was ‘perfectly proper to test the water’ by seeing what the defence case was.
Conservative MP Maria Miller (left) and Labour’s Jess Phillips (right) have both called for Philip Green’s former employees to be able to speak out
He also said it was legitimate to see what information Telegraph lawyers disclosed ahead of the trial, as there may have been a basis for seeking damages against the newspaper for the ‘consequences of what we alleged were their actions’.
However, he told the court: ‘It is as plain as it could be that the rug was substantially pulled from under this action by the action of Lord Hain.’
Mr Price argued certain court documents prepared for the trial should remain private even after the litigation is formally ended, because it would be ‘quite wrong’ for confidential information to be published ‘in national newspapers’.
Desmond Browne QC, representing the Telegraph Media Group, said the court should only agree to the end of the legal action on the condition no further challenges are brought against the employees.
He said: ‘The one thing that should not happen is that Sir Philip should be able to retire from the battlefield, reserving his right to start proceedings at some stage in future against the employees.’
Sir Philip Green (pictured, left, with his wife Tina), has dropped his legal battle over sexual harassment and discrimination claims. Peter Hain (right), the politician who named him, says he feels vindicated
Mr Browne also argued the case was being dropped because Sir Philip and his companies believed they would lose at trial.
He said: ‘If, as is now asserted, the action lost its point after Lord Hain’s speech in the House of Lords on October 23 then we say they have no justification for carrying on litigating, at great expense, for another three months.’
He argued the explanation for why the claim continued is ‘simply baffling’.
The barrister added: ‘We say that the inference is overwhelming, that the claimants realised they were never going to be able to defeat the Telegraph’s public interest defence in light of the situation as it developed.’
Mr Justice Warby said reporting restrictions regarding the identity of the employees and the confidential information will remain in place pending his decision.
Court of Appeal judges temporarily barred the newspaper from identifying the tycoon or revealing ‘confidential information’ relating to allegations of misconduct made against him by five employees.
Outlining their decision for granting the injunction, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Henderson said there was a ‘real prospect’ that publication would cause ‘substantial and possibly irreversible harm’ to the claimants.
But former Cabinet minister Lord Hain named Sir Philip in the House of Lords two days after the court’s ruling in October.
The Labour peer said he had been contacted by someone ‘intimately involved’ in the case and felt it was his ‘duty’ to use parliamentary privilege to identify the retail mogul.
In August last year, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave refused to gag the newspaper, but a challenge was mounted by Sir Philip – then identified in court papers as ABC – and the two companies.