A firm of private investigators has been appointed by the Co-operative Group to uncover the identity of those behind a number of leaks that led to the resignation of its chief executive.
Euan Sutherland left the Group last week after being “undermined” by one or more persons from the boardroom who had leaked inside information.
The series of leaks over the past few weeks led to a three hour emergency board meeting, where chair Ursula Lidbetter told directors that Mr Sutherland had tendered his resignation.
The Observer published a leaked paper from the remuneration committee that outlined a doubling of payments for executives on par with plcs. Other leaks followed, including details of the intention to sell-off of the farms business, alongside a proposed disposal of pharmacy.
Lord Myners, the former City minister who is responsible for a review into the Group’s governance, said he released his findings early because contents of his report – only given to the board 10 hours earlier – had been leaked to the BBC too.
In a live webinar session with members, he said: “I felt the members of the society were entitled to have exactly the same information that the board of directors had. Hence, we produced an interim report within a matter of a few days because I wanted everybody in a member-controlled society to be on the same page in terms of information.”
Quizzed on who the leakers could have been, Lord Myners replied it was “probably from board members”, but “possibly from senior executives who were in the picture”. Though he added: “Very few knew the subject matters that were leaked.”
Private investigations firm Kroll has been appointed to investigate where the leaks have come from. “I understand Kroll are making very good progress in identifying the leaker or leakers,” said Lord Myners. “But these people have done real damage to the society. They undoubtedly led to the departure of Euan Sutherland and have created anxiety in the minds of employees, our senior executive team and our bankers.”
He commented that, as a result of the leak, chair Ursula Lidbetter and interim chief executive Richard Pennycook had to see the Group’s banks to explain what was happening.
Lord Myners said: “The banks are looking very closely at what we do. We do need bank support, we have debts and obligations to the banks. The banks have had a bucket-full of bad news to absorb over the last 12 months.
“The big issue for the banks was the departure of Euan Sutherland. It’s incredibly fortunate we probably have one of the most trusted finance directors in the country, as far as the banks are concerned. Richard and his colleagues are shocked by what’s happened. To lose Euan to them was a very big thing.”