Woolwich man blames `war room' smears

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The Independent Online

Peter Robinson, the Woolwich Chief Executive ousted for alleged financial irregularities, broke his silence yesterday to accuse the building society of setting up a "War Room" aimed at smearing him with false claims about his misuse of the society's resources.

He said accusations levelled against him were the actions of "dissidents hoping to besmirch my name" and denied any wrongdoing. "I have been told they have set up a war room, an operations room to collect any smear against me," he said.

"Staff are being told that if they have anything against me, no matter how old, they should come forward and their jobs will be safe. They are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts. The aim is to sanitise the Woolwich completely from me."

Mr Robinson refused to discuss specific allegations, saying he could not do so until his lawyers received details of what he was alleged to have done.

He promised he would rebut all claims of improprieties in detail within days. His solicitors would press also for compensation for the loss of his pounds 300,000 a year job. He said: "I want to be able to reply to the charges that have been levelled at me as soon as possible."

Mr Robinson, 54, was forced to resign on Tuesday barely three months after becoming chief executive at the Woolwich.

His departure comes as the society moves towards a planned pounds 3bn float on the Stock Exchange in August next year. More than 3.5 million members are hoping to receive free shares worth up to pounds 1,000 each.

Sources at the Woolwich have alleged the chief executive used the society's gardeners to landscape the grounds of his home in the village of Brasted, in Kent, as well as having decorating work done to his pounds 450,000 mock-Tudor house. He is alleged to have authorised the use of a Range Rover for his family, as well as other charges.

He was confronted with the allegations on Monday, shortly after his return from a holiday in Barbados. Although he denied the allegations, a board meeting the following day asked for his resignation.

Mr Robinson said: "I was totally flabbergasted to hear what I was alleged to have done."

He said he assumed it was the work of disgruntled employees who had decided to move against him after he became chief executive.

"I have received a lot of phone calls from people still inside the society and what they are saying is that the old guard have been coming out to get me."

He denied that the problem lay in his relationship with senior executives, or members of the Woolwich Board.