Mike Ashley has won a High Court battle against an investment banker who claimed he was owed £14m by the Sports Direct boss.
Jeff Blue had alleged the entrepreneur made a business pact with him at a pub. He said Mr Ashley sometimes did business “in unorthodox ways and in unusual venues”.
The banker said he had been promised £15m if he used his expertise to increase Sports Direct’s share price to £8, but had only received £1m.
Mr Ashley had called Mr Blue a liar – dismissing the suggestion that he made big business decisions in pubs as “total crap” – and said the money paid to the banker was a bonus for previous work.
The Newcastle United owner was not in court to hear the judge deliver his ruling on Wednesday, but his lawyers said he had won a “comprehensive” victory.
The case had centred on a conversation said to have taken place between Mr Blue and Mr Ashley during a night of heavy drinking at central London pub the Horse & Groom in 2013.
Image: Investment banker Jeff Blue alleged Mr Ashley reneged on an agreement
The court heard colourful evidence from Mr Blue, who said Mr Ashley would take naps in meetings and hold drink-fuelled management sessions – one of which culminated in him vomiting into a fireplace.
“I can’t remember the details of the conversations that we had in the pub as it was a heavy night of drinking,” Mr Ashley had told the court proceedings.
“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 £15m 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 was not “Obi-Wan Kenobi running the Death Star”, giving evidence over the claim against him.
Mr Justice Leggatt ruled in favour of the business tycoon, saying no one would have thought what was said in the pub was “serious”.
He said: “The Sports Direct senior management meetings certainly show that Mr Ashley is happy to combine discussion of business matters with the consumption of alcohol.
“But there is no evidence to suggest that Mr Ashley has ever negotiated or concluded a contract at one of these meetings.”
He told lawyers at the end of proceedings that the case had been “a lot more interesting than some”.
The judge said Mr Blue would have to pick up Mr Ashley’s legal bills of £1.5m.
In a statement following the ruling, Mr Ashley said: “The only reason the Sports Direct share price exceeded £8, and will hopefully do so again, is because of the sterling efforts of all the people who work at Sports Direct.”