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Sports Direct Founder Targets Fellow Shareholders

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has taken a swipe at the ‘rebel’ shareholders at the company, while rescuing embattled chairman Keith Hellawell for a second time who was voted down for reappointment.

A vote in September by shareholders at a tumultuous AGM had seen 53% of independent investors oppose Mr Hellawell’s stewardship of the company – beset by allegations of corporate governance and working practice failures.

He was saved then mainly because of billionaire chief executive Mr Ashley’s dominant voting rights.

Shareholders have now once again delivered a blow to the company after a further vote on his re-election to the board – under City rules – at the firm’s Derbyshire HQ, which also contains its controversial main warehouse.

Some 54% of shareholders rejected his reappointment in the second vote. Investors such as Aberdeen Asset Management and Royal London had publicly opposed him prior to the vote.

Mr Ashley said: “Keith has my full backing and will be continuing in his role on the basis that he has the unanimous support of the board.

“I note that many of those who voted against Keith have acknowledged that we have made positive progress since the AGM.”

Mr Ashley, who also owns Newcastle United, ordered an overhaul on pay, governance and working practices after admitting some staff were being paid less than the minimum wage.

However, a 25% dip in half-year profits announced in December prompted a backlash from Mr Hellawell who accused the media, unions and politicians of ‘giving the company a bad name’.