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Business & Economy

Mike Ashley apologises for “ill-judged” Sports Direct coronavirus actions – and offers trucks to NHS

Mike Ashley has apologised for his retail empire’s “ill-judged” attempts to open stores amid the coronavirus outbreak – and offered its delivery trucks to help authorities fight the pandemic.

The Newcastle United owner has admitted his Frasers Group sent “poorly-timed” emails to the Government on whether it could continue trading during the countrywide lockdown.

The climbdown comes after the retailer previously wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson – and subsequently spoke to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove – about whether it could remain open, owing to it being “uniquely well-placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis.”

However, using an open letter to apologise, Mr Ashley says the business’ intention was “only to seek clarity from the Government”, adding it would have “never acted against their advice.”

Adding he is “deeply apologetic about the misunderstanding”, the mogul says the company’s entire fleet of wagons are now at the Government’s disposal – should it need them – to help transport medical goods around the country.

“Our emails to the Government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with,” said Mr Ashley.

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

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

“I have offered our support and we are poised and ready for when that offer is accepted, with our entire fleet of lorries at their disposal.

“This offer is not limited to the NHS, but all key workforces across the Government.

“We will help wherever possible.”

Mr Ashley’s apology came two days after Frasers Group’s chief financial officer Chris Wootton spoke to Mr Gove in an apparent attempt to justify the firm’s measures around trying to keep its stores open.

Asking the minister if he agreed Frasers Group has been “proper” in seeking assurance about keeping Sports Direct open, he also asked whether he agreed that the operator’s Evans Cycles arm should stay open – with appropriate social distancing measures – “given the importance of cycling as a means by which the public could keep well during the emergency”.