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An investigation into the collapse of BHS could take as long as two years to determine whether any of the department-store chain’s former directors should be disqualified, the head of the Insolvency Service has said, while expressing “confidence” that the inquiry could be concluded “significantly” earlier.

The probe into BHS is consuming as much as one-tenth of the regulator’s resources, officials have previously disclosed. So far the agency has “made initial contact” with the people involved, hired senior counsel and other experts and bought “specialised IT equipment” to deal with the slew of documents.

Sir Philip Green became a billionaire shortly after he bought BHS at the turn of the millennium. But in 2015 he sold the business for just £1, and the chain’s collapse 13 months later has scythed through the retirement incomes of former workers and triggered a £275m rescue of its pension scheme.

MPs have branded the affair a “tragedy” in which “those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners”. The government last year ordered the Insolvency Service to launch a “fast-track” investigation, instead of waiting for the preliminary conclusions of the company’s administrators, in order to determine whether any of the chain’s former directors had behaved improperly.

Sarah Albion, chief executive of the Insolvency Service, said:

“The complexities of the case and volume of evidence to be reviewed means that it is not possible to say when we will complete the investigation. However, I remain confident that should our investigation find grounds for disqualification action against former directors we will be in a position to commence proceedings significantly earlier than April 2019.”

Frank Field, who co-chaired a parliamentary investigation into the BHS affair, said his committee was “very pleased to see that the Insolvency Service has raised its game”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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