Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley 'will go before MPs'

Mike Ashley Image copyright Martin Rickett/PA
Image caption Sports Direct boss and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley had initially refused to appear before MPs

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley says he will now go before MPs to defend the firm's "good name".

It reverses the billionaire's previous decision not to appear before the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee on Tuesday to answer questions on working conditions.

In a letter, Mr Ashley said he had only refused "to avoid a media circus".

Committee chairman Iain Wright said he looked forward to Mr Ashley responding to the "serious allegations".

Sports Direct has been criticised for working conditions at the warehouse, including employing staff on zero-hour contracts.

Mr Ashley had been refusing to appear before the committee since last March, although he changed his mind last month and said he would answer questions if MPs first visited the firm's Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire.

However, last week he changed his position again, stating he would not attend because his lawyer Richard Gordon QC, was unavailable.

Would Mike Ashley have been jailed in Big Ben?

In a letter to Mr Wright, Mr Ashley took issue with the MP's suggestion last week that he had "something to hide". He wrote: "I can assure you that nothing is further from the truth."

His media advisor, Keith Bishop, denied that Mr Ashley had reversed his position.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sports Direct has come under fire in recent months over its "Dickensian working practises"

Analysis: Joe Lynam, business correspondent

So Mike Ashley has blinked first. Parliamentarians had called his bluff.

They pretended that they were prepared for a uniformed Serjeant at Arms to knock on Mr Ashley's door and haul him (on live TV) before the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Suddenly billionaire Mr Ashley was set to look like the man of the people while the elected officials would look like 17th century thespians. Neither side would wish that. So he will now "do a Rupert Murdoch" by submitting himself for a grilling about how Sports Direct treats its staff.

Mr Ashley will be keen to dispel some of the rumours and reports surrounding his Shirebrook distribution facility. He will also be keen to show contrition and that things have changed.

Failure to appear in front of MPs meant Mr Ashley risked being found in contempt of Parliament.

In his letter, Mr Ashley writes: "After much reflection over the last 48 hours, I have concluded that a lengthy legal battle would be of no benefit to either of us.

"It would no doubt lead to further unwarranted accusations that I am being secretive, whereas in fact I have been open and honest at every stage of this process."

'Genuine and balanced'

Mr Ashley added that he would now appear "in order to defend the good name of Sports Direct on behalf of all the great people who work here".

Mr Wright said he was pleased that Mr Ashley had finally agreed to give evidence at the committee hearing.

He looked forward to Mr Ashley "answering our questions, including in response to these allegations", and telling MPs about the progress of a review the Sports Direct boss announced following the allegations.

"As a committee, we want to get a sense of the genuine and balanced picture at Sports Direct and establish whether there are issues for the wider economy which need further examination, such as the status and rights of agency workers," Mr Wright said.

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