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Mike Ashley sues taxman for ‘unlawful conduct’

mike ashley
The 59-year-old is seeking to recover costs wasted as a result of HMRC's alleged conduct - Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Mike Ashley has sued the taxman for alleged “serious and persistent unlawful conduct” in a legal battle over his personal data.

The retail billionaire claims HMRC unlawfully denied his requests to provide more details about what information it held on him.

According to new legal documents, Mr Ashley is now seeking a court declaration that HMRC’s “unwarranted delay or obfuscation” breached his data protection rights.

He accuses HMRC of repeatedly refusing to hand over information about an abandoned tax investigation into his property sales.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation 2018, everyone has the right to ask an organisation whether or not they are using or storing their personal information, a process also known as a subject access request.

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Mr Ashley, the owner of retail empire Frasers Group, in September 2022 requested that HMRC provide a copy of all information relating to the closed investigation.

HMRC launched the enquiry around 2014 and initially found that the entrepreneur failed to declare that he previously sold properties at an overvalue, resulting in a tax liability of £13.6m.

The Government department allegedly “refused to resile” from the tax decision for years despite being confronted with evidence that the properties were sold at a fair market price.

HMRC is said to have effectively overturned its initial ruling in October 2022, weeks after Mr Ashley’s lawyers at RPC made the subject access request.

However, the tax authority subsequently allegedly failed to disclose the tycoon’s data despite being given at least four formal opportunities and several extensions of time.

Initial delays began after HMRC claimed that responding to the subject access request meant “a large number of documents will require extensive redaction”.

Although it agreed to provide copies of correspondence between the parties, HMRC is said to have “comprehensively refused” Mr Ashley’s demands for additional internal information.

It later emerged that HMRC withheld several documents on the basis that they were protected by tax exemptions and legal professional privilege.

In legal correspondence with Mr Ashley’s lawyers, HMRC last year allegedly maintained that the exemptions were “correctly applied”.

However, HMRC in December conceded that its approach had “been too narrow” after being threatened with legal action and announced it would rethink its handling of the case.

In legal documents recently filed at the High Court, Mr Ashley claims he has “no confidence” that HMRC will “promptly and fulsomely” comply with its duties under data protection laws.

The former Newcastle United owner also claimed that HMRC’s “persistent unlawful handling” of his request caused him to question its willingness to comply without a court order.

The 59-year-old is now seeking to recover costs wasted as a result of HMRC’s alleged conduct.

Lawyers for Mr Ashley and HMRC declined to comment.