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Tesco chairman John Allan quits in wake of harassment allegations

John Allan - Hannah McKay/Reuters
John Allan - Hannah McKay/Reuters

Tesco chairman John Allan is to step down next month after the supermarket said allegations over his behaviour risked becoming a “distraction”.

Mr Allan, who had been due to leave as chairman next year, will now quit at Tesco's annual general meeting next month.

The decision follows several allegations in recent weeks over Mr Allan's behaviour, which representatives for the City grandee described the allegations as “simply untrue”.

Mr Allan is also chairman of housebuilder Barratt Homes, a role he is due to step down later this year. He is set to retire from his board role on September 6. When asked on Friday if it was bringing forward this date, Barratt declined to comment

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In claims made in the Guardian, the Tesco chairman was accused of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour on four separate occasions. This included one incident which was alleged to have taken place at the supermarket's annual general meeting (AGM) last year.

Mr Allan faced accusations that he had touched the bottom of a senior Tesco employee at the meeting. He was also accused of having made inappropriate remarks to two other women on separate occasions between 2019 and 2022, and having touched another woman's bottom.

He denied all but one of the allegations, only admitting to having made comments on a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) worker's appearance in 2019, which he apologised for. At the time, Mr Allan had been president of the CBI.

Mr Allan said: “It is with regret that I am having to prematurely stand down from my position as chair of Tesco following the anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations made against me, as reported by the Guardian.

“These allegations are utterly baseless, as the internal procedures undertaken by Tesco prove.

“There is no evidence of any wrongdoing at that time or at any stage of my Chairmanship at Tesco and I remain determined to prove my innocence.”

Tesco chairman John Allan - Geoff Pugh
Tesco chairman John Allan - Geoff Pugh

Tesco on Friday said it had immediately instigated an extensive review into the allegations surrounding its AGM last year, including assessing video footage of the meeting. The supermarket had urged staff internally to come forward if they had concerns over any attendee’s conduct and, in particular, regarding any incidents which might have taken place at the AGM.

It said it had not identified any evidence or complaints in relation to Mr Allan's behaviour at the AGM, or at all in his tenure as chairman.

Byron Grote, senior independent director at Tesco, has been named as the supermarket's interim chair, whilst a replacement for Mr Allan is found.

Mr Grote, who had previously been leading an internal search for a new chair, said: “John has made a valuable contribution to Tesco during his eight years as chair.

“While we have received no complaints about John's conduct and made no findings of wrongdoing, these allegations risk becoming a distraction to Tesco. On behalf of the board, I thank him for his substantial contribution to the business.

“We are well advanced in our search for a new chair and will make an announcement in due course.”

Stewart Gilliland will take over as senior independent director and lead the process to find a replacement chair.

The move by Tesco to accelerate Mr Allan's departure marks a major change at one of Britain's biggest companies.

During his tenure, Tesco has rebuilt its market share while navigating the Covid crisis and soaring inflation. However, the supermarket has recently been facing pressure amid claims of wider industry profiteering.

The supermarket was also expecting to face fierce questioning from shareholders over its culture at its upcoming AGM following the allegations regarding Mr Allan.

Tesco was among the companies to pause its membership of the CBI earlier this year, following allegations of rape and harrassment within the business lobby group.

An independent report into the culture at the CBI found that it had harboured “toxic” sexual predators.