BAT Industries company secretary David Wilson is to leave after four years to join retailer Debenhams as general counsel in time for its planned demerger from the Burton Group.

A spokeswoman for Debenhams confirmed that Wilson's arrival on 5 January had already been announced internally.

“David will be joining Debenhams as general counsel and company secretary and will report directly to the chief executive, Terry Green,” she said.

The move is part of an effort to bolster Debenhams' executive team before the planned demerger.

His move will be followed with close interest by City firms seeking to gain the newly independent Debenhams as a client. Clifford Chance currently acts for the Burton Group.

BAT Industries is itself demerging. Its financial services arm is merging with Zurich Insurance and its tobacco arm will become British American Tobacco.

BAT's chief counsel Stuart Chalfen is joining the new tobacco company. Six weeks ago, he told The Lawyer it had not yet been decided which company the other five lawyers in the parent organisation would be joining.