Shares in Debenhams dive as Sports Direct rules out offer

GETTY    
   BREAKING Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell is to step down from the company

Analysts have speculated about the possibility of a tie-up between the two department store chains since Sports Direct bought House of Fraser for £90 million last month.

Shares in Debenhams fell 7% on Thursday after Sports Direct issued a statement to the market saying it had no intention of making an offer.

Senior non-executive director Simon Bentley is to also leave the company, having served on the board since 2007.

Mr Bentley said: "It's been discussed, but do you think when you have the job of handling House of Fraser right now that you might have your hands full".

"It would be hard subdividing a building like that", he said, "but we are absolutely determined to secure a positive future for that site, whatever that may be".

Ashley thanked Hellawell and Bentley for their "valuable service and significant contributions" and insisted his strategy to transform House of Fraser into the "Harrods of the high street" would be a "game changer".

Bentley, who has been with the company for 11 years, said at the meeting that it was a "natural good time" for he and former police chief Hellawell to step down as Sports Direct was becoming a bigger business.


"Having overseen significant improvements in the working practices and corporate governance of the company, which includes a refresh of the board, now is the right time for me to step aside", Mr Hellawell said.

Hellawell will be replaced by non-executive David Daly, Sports Direct said.

ISS said investors should not support the re-election of both Mr Ashley and Mr Hellawell due to the firm's "apparent unwillingness to fully address the concerns of independent shareholders".

"I have every confidence that the group will continue to go from strength to strength", he said.

The Financial Reporting Council accused Sports Direct, which is run by the billionaire Mike Ashley, of "obfuscation" and "obstruction" by refusing to give it documents to assist its investigation into the conduct of Grant Thornton, the accounting firm that audits the company's accounts. He is also a non-executive director of Fulham Football Club.

Nicola Frampton, managing director of William Hill's United Kingdom retail division, will also join the board.

Three shareholder advisory groups - Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (Pirc), Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis & Co - had urged investors to vote against the re-election of Ashley and Hellawell.

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