Carillion disclosures reveal £2m paid to law firms days before company's collapse

Slaughter and May was paid £1.2m by Carillion days before the before the contractor collapsed into liquidation this January, with Clifford Chance (CC), Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Mills & Reeves among a number of other law firms also receiving last-ditch payouts.

According to figures released by the official receiver, £6.4m in fees were paid out to Carillion’s advisers – including seven law firms – on 12 January, the day before the company requested a £10m taxpayer bailout from the UK Government, and three days before it went into liquidation.

Slaughters – which had been Carillion’s main legal adviser for close to 20 years – was the second highest-paid adviser on that day, behind EY, which was paid £2.5m.

In total, almost £2m was paid to law firms on that day. Magic circle firms CC and Freshfields received £149,100 and £91,200 respectively, with Mills & Reeve paid £20,600 and pensions firm Sackers taking £37,200.

Freshfields and Sackers had both been advising Carillion’s pension trustees.

US law firms Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Willkie Farr & Gallagher were also were handed £305,500 and £164,000 respectively. Akin Gump had been acting for private placement holders, with Willkie Farr advising convertible bond holders.

The parliamentary committee leading the inquiry into Carillion’s collapse today (12 March) published the letter sent by former Carillion chairman Philip Green to the Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office on 13 January, in which he requested “short-term funding from HM Government and certain key banks to enable Carillion to bridge through to a restructuring”.

The letter states that at that time, Carillion’s directors were considering whether it was “appropriate” to continue trading “with the benefit of advice from Slaughter and May”.

Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee jointly leading the inquiry, said: “With the company teetering on the abyss, Mr Green had the cheek to try and get the Government to surrender another £160m of taxpayers’ money… the most troubling element of this letter is its demands for an immediate £10m from taxpayers, the very next day after Carillion shelled out £6.4m to its illustrious advisers, including the EY restructuring gravy train and half the law firms in the City of London.”

Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, described the letter as an “11th hour ransom note”, saying: “Expensive advisers still pocketed millions while workers risked losing jobs and long-suffering suppliers faced financial ruin.”

Board minutes recently leaked to the inquiry revealed that Slaughters had warned Carillion’s directors about the implications of failing to disclose accounting issues as far back as last May. The firm has been approached for evidence by the inquiry and has been asked to provide information relating to the “nature of the advice” it provided to Carillion.

In the wake of the Carillion collapse, CC acquired the company’s Newcastle-based legal services arm, Carillion Advice Service (CAS). The firm is taking on 60 paralegals in Newcastle, who will create a new UK low-cost centre for the magic circle firm.