Mike Ashley fails in bid to trigger investigation into struggling Debenhams

Businessman and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has failed in a bid to trigger an investigation into the financial affairs of struggling department store chain Debenhams.

Lawyers representing the Mr Ashley’s Frasers Group, which owns nearly a third of Debenhams’ shares, asked a judge to appoint a “provisional liquidator” who could begin inquiries.

But Judge Mark Mullen, who considered the application at a remote hearing in the specialist Insolvency and Companies Court on Wednesday, refused.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)</figcaption>
Sports Direct CEO Mike Ashley (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The judge said neither other Debenhams’ shareholders nor creditors were aware of the application.

He indicated that he would reconsider the issue at another hearing in the near future, but said he wanted the application to be “known about”.

Debenhams is in administration – for the second time in a period of about 12 months.

Bosses appointed administrators in early April.

The retailer had also gone into administration in April 2019

Judge Mullen said Frasers Group had issued a winding up petition.

No decision has yet been made about whether that winding up petition should be granted.

The judge said the appointment of any “provisional liquidator” was not urgent.

He said there was no evidence to suggest that Debenhams’ assets or documents needed to be secured because they were in any danger.

A barrister representing Frasers Group had argued that a provisional liquidator should be appointed.

Barry Isaacs QC told the judge how Debenhams had last year borrowed around £40 million – but Frasers Group loan offers had been rebuffed.

The judge said Frasers Group had identified those “bridging facilities” as “suspicious”.

Frasers Group was known as Sports Direct International.

Bosses announced a re-brand late in 2019.

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