Mike Ashley tells ITV News he hopes to keep House of Fraser staff in 'very slow process' of closures

  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi

Mike Ashley has told ITV News he will try to keep as many House of Fraser staff as he can and the closure of stores will be a "very slow process" after admitting regrets at saving the high street brand.

The Sports Direct boss spoke after admitting problems with the newly purchased department store were "terminal".

He also reacted to the demand from Belgian authorities for 674 million euros (£605 million) in unpaid taxes from the firm, which emerged as Sports Direct's much-delayed financial results were revealed on Friday.

Mr Ashley told ITV News he was not worried about the tax bill and was as "confident as I can be" that it will be resolved.

Asked if he had any idea when the House of Fraser stores will close, he said: "No, it'll be a very slow process."

Then asked if staff should be concerned, he replied: "No, I hope not. We'll try to keep as many as we can."

Sports Direct is suffering after buying House of Fraser. Credit: PA

Mr Ashley had suggested in the results that his firm might not have bought House of Fraser last year had they known the true state of the business.

He said: "If we had the gift of hindsight we might have made a different decision in August 2018."

ITV News Business Correspondent Joanna Partridge reacted to the unvarnished language used by Mr Ashley:

On the tax demand from Belgium, the firm said it will investigate further with its tax advisors.

As the results were published it was also announced chief finance officer Jon Kempster will step down on September 11, and will be replaced by his deputy, Chris Wootton.

Sports Direct said: "Jon came in during a transitionary period and his knowledge and experience has helped to guide the group through this stage in its development as well as passing on vital knowledge to those around him.

"Jon was proactive in forging improved relationships with the market and we believe we are in a better place in this regard than when he first started."

Mike Ashley says his firm may not have bought House of Fraser had it known the true scale of its problems. Credit: PA

On the result's delay, Sports Direct had claimed it was due to "complexities of the integration into the company of the House of Fraser business" which was bought a year ago.

Bosses also blamed "increased regulatory scrutiny of auditors and audits including the FRC review of Grant Thornton’s audit of the financial statements of Sports Direct for the period ended 29 April 2018."

Shares dropped in early trading when the results did not appear but recovered and were flat by mid-morning on Friday.