Belfast Telegraph

Retail giant Debenhams goes into administration

Debenhams is on the brink of administration (PA)
Debenhams is on the brink of administration (PA)

High Street retailer Debenhams has gone into administration.

The firm, which has five stores in Northern Ireland, had earlier rejected Mike Ashley's latest rescue package.

The billionaire's Sports Direct International company said Debenhams turned down a proposal to issue £150m in new shares, as a deadline for talks with creditors looms.

Mr Ashley said earlier that he had offered to underwrite the shareholder rights issue in a move to prevent him from losing much of his equity investment in the retailer.

Commenting on the announcement, Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “This is obviously a worrying time for the staff of the five Debenhams stores in Northern Ireland”

“Given their stores are an important part of Northern Ireland’s retail offer and provide a lot of footfall for town centres and shopping centres, I hope a buyer can be found”

“2019 will be critical year of retail reconstruction and change. Our sector is facing huge challenges and must constantly innovate and adapt to what consumers want”

Even after Debenhams rejected the plan, Ashley said a cash offer valuing the store chain at £61m remained an option. He called on the company and its lenders to "actively engage in negotiations".

The struggling UK retailer has been preparing a so-called pre-packaged administration under which shareholders - including Sports Direct with a roughly 30% stake - would likely lose their investments.

Prepack administration is typically a court-based process that can allow creditors to take control in a pre-agreed plan while the company continues to operate as normal. It doesn't require shareholder approval.

Mr Ashley's latest offer came after Sports Direct accused Debenhams of "a sustained programme of falsehoods and denials".

In a statement late on Sunday, it called for board members of the department-store company to take lie-detector tests.

Mr Ashley, the chief executive of Sports Direct, said his support for the rights issue would have been conditional on him being named chief executive of the department store chain, a request that was previously a sticking point in negotiations.

Debenhams shares, which have fallen more than 90% over the past 12 months, were down 14% on yesterday afternoon after early gains.

The latest proposal from Mr Ashley would have been subject to Debenhams creditors agreeing to write off £148m in debt. It also included the lenders swapping another £122m of debt for shares.

The company has previously snubbed an offer from Mr Ashley for a £150m interest-free loan.

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