Ex-Rangers shareholder Mike Ashley an ‘honest bloke’, court hears

Newcastle United manager Mike Ashley. Picture: Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images
Newcastle United manager Mike Ashley. Picture: Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images
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Former Rangers shareholder owner and Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is waiting to see whether he has won a High Court battle with an investment banker over a £15 million deal allegedly made in a London pub.

Investment banker Jeffrey Blue says 52-year-old Mr Ashley promised to pay him £15 million if he used his expertise to double Sports Direct’s share price to £8 a share.

He says the Newcastle United owner paid only £1 million and he wants £14 million damages.

Mr Ashley denies the claim and says Mr Blue is talking ‘’nonsense’’.

A judge has finished analysing evidence at a High Court trial in London.

Mr Justice Leggatt said he aimed to deliver a ruling in the near future.

The trial began last week and the judge has heard evidence from Mr Blue and Mr Ashley.

Lawyers representing both men on Wednesday outlined closing legal arguments.

Mr Blue was at the hearing on Wednesday. Mr Ashley was not at the hearing.

he judge has heard the dispute centres on a conversation in the Horse and Groom pub four years ago.

Mr Ashley said he met Mr Blue and three other finance specialists at the pub and “consumed a lot of alcohol”.

“I can’t remember the details of the conversations that we had in the pub as it was a heavy night of drinking,” he said.

‘’I do remember that we had a lot of drinks and a lot of banter.

‘’If I did say to Mr Blue that I would pay him £15 million if he could increase (Sports Direct’s) share price to £8, it would be obvious to everyone, including Mr Blue, that I wasn’t being serious.’’

He said he paid Mr Blue, who he called ‘’Jeffers’’, £1 million for ‘’other deals’’ unrelated to the night in the Horse and Groom.

Mr Blue told the judge that Mr Ashley was a ‘’serious businessman’’.

He said the work ethic at Sports Direct was ‘’like nothing else I have ever seen’’.

But he said Mr Ashley sometimes did business ‘’in unorthodox ways and in unusual venues’’.

A barrister representing Mr Ashley told the judge on Wednesday that the businessman had come across as “larger than life” but honest.

“Mr Ashley was obviously robust and a larger-than-life character,” said David Cavender QC.

“But he was honest. He was an honest bloke - sometimes disarmingly so.’’

Mr Cavender added: ‘’He came here to give evidence for two days because he does not believe there was any agreement with Mr Blue.’’

Mr Cavender said Mr Blue had taken no note of conversations he said he had with Mr Ashley about the £15 million deal.

He said that was ‘’quite extraordinary’’ and suggested that Mr Blue was the ‘’sort of man who would take a note if he coughed’’.

‘’This claim just doesn’t work,’’ said Mr Cavender.

‘’It is, we say, the story of a disappointed, aggrieved man.’’

Mr Cavender said Mr Blue had not behaved like a man with an ‘’entitlement’’.

‘’It is the behaviour of a man who thinks he may be able to get something from Mike,’’ said Mr Cavender.

‘’He thinks he may, in some way, possibly get a bonus if he plays his cards right.’’

Mr Cavender said Mr Blue could not distinguish between ‘’what is banter and what is not’’.

A barrister representing Mr Blue said Mr Ashley had reneged on the £15 million deal.

‘’Mr Blue has seen Mr Ashley in action over the years, doing business in pubs, hotel bars and casinos,’’ Jeffrey Chapman QC told Mr Justice Leggatt.

‘’Doing business with enormous success.’’

Mr Chapman said evidence aired suggested that Mr Ashley was a ‘’power-drinking, money-making machine’’.

‘’The deal he entered into with Mr Blue was, like so many of his deals, a brilliant one for Mike Ashley,’’ said Mr Chapman.

‘’Incentivising Mr Blue into working hard to try and double Sports Direct’s share price, which is what he did.’’

Mr Chapman added: ‘’Mr Ashley reneged by paying Mr Blue £1 million.’’

He said explanations Mr Ashley had given when denying any £15 million deal were ‘’fanciful’’ and added: “(Mr Blue) has got enough experience of the world of Mr Ashley to be able to tell the difference between a joke and something that is serious.”

Mr Chapman suggested that Mr Ashley had been unable to give a “coherent, commercial” explanation for the £1 million payment.

“He’s not Santa Claus,” said Mr Chapman. “He’s the sort of man who will drive a hard bargain.”