Mike Ashley 'deeply apologetic' for handling of coronavirus crisis

Mike Ashley ‘deeply apologetic’ for ‘ill-judged’ handling of coronavirus crisis after trying to keep Sports Direct open as he offers entire fleet of lorries to help NHS

  • Mike Ashley apologised for ‘ill-judged and poorly timed’ emails to government
  • In an open letter, Mr Ashley, 55, also apologised to his employees and the public
  • He offered company’s ‘entire fleet’ of lorries to help NHS amid coronavirus crisis
  • It comes after businessman faced criticism for trying to keep Sports Direct open 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has apologised for ‘ill-judged and poorly timed’ emails to the government after trying to keep stores open amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In an open letter, the majority owner of Frasers Group also apologised to employees and the public, saying 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.

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley, pictured, 55, apologised for ‘ill-judged and poorly timed’ emails to the government after trying to keep stores open amid the coronavirus pandemic

In an open letter, pictured, the majority owner of Frasers group said he had offered the company’s ‘entire fleet of lorries’ to the NHS to help deliver medical supplies and equipment

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, 55, 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.’

Company chiefs had initially said stores would remain open because selling sporting and fitness equipment makes the firm a vital asset during a national shutdown.

Mr Ashley’s Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, had written to all workers within 30 minutes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down all non-essential retailers on Monday night.

However Chris Wootton, chief finance officer of owner Frasers Group, said on Tuesday morning – less than 12 hours later – that its stores would not open after all.

Company chiefs initially said stores would remain open as selling sporting and fitness equipment makes the firm a vital asset in lockdown (pictured: file photo of Sports Direct store)

Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove said he could not see any justification for Sports Direct to stay open during coronavirus restrictions and did not consider it as essential work.

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Gove had said Mr Ashley should ‘rescind what he said’ about keeping the leisurewear shop open.

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery also questioned the Sports Direct’s desire to stay open, tweeting: ‘Who on earth does Mike Ashley think he is? He’s prepared to endanger the life of his employees and the public at large.’

The Wansbeck MP added that selling sports equipment ‘is not an essential service’, while Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami said Sports Direct staying open could potentially be ‘putting vulnerable people at risk’.

‘Take some responsibility SHUT UP SHOP’ Mr Lavery concluded.

Labour MP Jess Phillips agreed that the firm is ‘not essential’, tweeting: ‘Massive mugs notwithstanding there is nothing people cannot live without in Sports Direct.’

Any firm which closes its stores joins a long list which now includes Primark, McDonald’s, Greggs, Nando’s, Costa Coffee, Eat and Debenhams.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said restrictions would be tightened up so only essential journeys should be made by key workers.

He also said people could leave home for exercise, but only while maintaining social distancing.

Although government advice says that retail outlets should shut down, it makes exceptions for ‘health shops’ and ‘bicycle shops’.

In full: Mike Ashley’s open letter

Given what has taken place over the last few days, I thought it was necessary to address and apologise for much of what has been reported across various media outlets regarding my personal actions and those of the Frasers Group business.

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.

There has been no dress rehearsal for what we as a nation are currently tackling, and I for one am immensely proud of how our Government, our NHS & all of our key workers have handled the situation so far. 

I would especially like to thank my Frasers Group employees, who have stood by the business in difficult times before and are doing so again currently.  

We are working very hard to save our business, so that we can continue to be one of the biggest employers on the UK high street once this pandemic has passed.

Outside of Frasers Group, I have offered our support to the NHS and we are poised and ready for when that offer is accepted, with our entire fleet of lorries at their disposal – to help deliver medical equipment and supplies. 

This offer is not limited to the NHS but all key workforces across the Government. We will help wherever possible.

Finally, 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.

I strongly encourage everyone to follow the Government’s advice, stay safe and healthy through these challenging times, not least my employees. 

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