Former Tesco chairman hits back at claims of inappropriate behaviour

The former chairman of Tesco has hired a law firm as he prepares to defend himself against claims of inappropriate behaviour towards women.

John Allan said he had instructed media lawyers at Schillings and is considering legal action against The Guardian, which first published four anonymous allegations of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour towards women.

According to The Guardian, Mr Allan touched the bottom of two female colleagues on separate occasions, and made inappropriate comments to two other women.

Mr Allan, who has vehemently denied all of the claims apart from one inappropriate remark, stepped down as chairman of Tesco last week after the supermarket said the recent allegations over his behaviour risked becoming a “distraction”.

Schillings has reportedly asked The Guardian for details of the alleged touching incidents, which it has not yet provided.

Speaking to the Times, Mr Allan said: “I’m determined, as far as I possibly can, to prove my innocence.

“But I’m conscious that if you don’t know what it is precisely you’re being accused of, it’s very hard to disprove.”

The Guardian said: “We stand by our journalism and the people who continue to come forward to tell their stories despite the significant risks involved.”

Mr Allan, a former president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said he was “flabbergasted” when first approached by The Guardian about the story, which followed its coverage of separate alleged sexual assaults at the scandal-hit business lobby group.

He said: “It didn’t feel like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been guilty here and I’ve been caught out’.”

The 74-year-old plans to campaign about the “catastrophic” impact that unsubstantiated allegations can have on careers of people much younger than him.

He said: “I’ve been talking to other guys. I’m 74. If this happened to them at 54, it would be absolutely catastrophic.

“They would probably be unemployable . . . If I want to put the frighteners on male friends of mine, I say, ‘You could be next,’ and they start to look a bit queasy.”

Mr Allan also said he wants to help create a process for individuals facing potentially false allegations to ensure that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

He said: “The real challenge is, is it possible to devise a mechanism such that this doesn’t happen in the future?”

“As opposed to what we seem to have at the moment, which is guilty until proven innocent — and very, very public discussion of allegations that in many cases will turn out to be completely unfounded.”

Mr Allan said the incident has accelerated his retirement plans by around six months.

The housebuilder Barratt Developments announced this week that he would step down from his role as chairman early following the “disruptive” claims.