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Mike Ashley apologises to Government over ‘ill-judged’ virus response

By Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has apologised for “ill-judged and poorly timed” emails to the Government and poor communication with employees and the public in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter, the majority owner of Frasers Group also said he has offered the company’s “entire fleet of lorries” to the NHS to help deliver medical supplies and equipment.

It comes after the businessman faced fierce criticism from MPs after he tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit, before performing a U-turn and closing his stores.

Frasers Group – which rebranded from Sports Direct International last year – faced further scorn after its finance chief wrote a letter to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on Wednesday in an attempt to defend its position.

In the new letter, Mr Ashley said: “Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the Government as to whether we should keep some of our stores open; we would never have acted against their advice.

“In hindsight, our emails to the Government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with.

“On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public on this was poor.

“To reiterate, I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future.”

The Newcastle United owner said staff at the retail group are “working very hard to save our business” so that the company can continue on the high street once the virus passes.

He thanked the company’s employees and said he was “proud” of how the Government, NHS and other key workers have handled the situation.

Frasers Group continues to trade online in the face of the pandemic, with workers continuing to process orders at the firm’s Shirebrook distribution centre.