Mike Ashley returns with another bid to buy Debenhams

House of Fraser owner Mike Ashley has returned with yet another attempt to buy ailing department store Debenhams – just days after lenders called time on the historic business.

Administrators FRP Advisory said on Tuesday that Debenhams would be wound down after it failed to find a buyer.

But sources yesterday said Ashley has now renewed his interest and could focus on buying the core business, its online operation and several dozen of the remaining 124 stores.

‘Actively looking’: Sources said Mike Ashley has now renewed his interest in Debenhams

The Mail on Sunday revealed in August that Ashley was interested in around 30 stores shortly after Debenhams had been put up for sale.

However, after approaching the company’s advisers he complained last month he had been ‘frozen out’.

Sources last night said Ashley is once again ‘actively looking’ at which stores he might pick up to add to his House of Fraser, Flannels and Sports Direct group.

A purchase of a slimmed down chain would likely be a satisfying moment for the sportswear tycoon who has tried to buy the company several times, has repeatedly hit out against its management teams and tried to install himself on the board on a number of occasions.

The online Debenhams business alone is understood to be capable of selling around £500million of clothing and home products a year. One source said growth at its internet business was still accelerating.

The month-long lockdown in November hit many clothing retailers hard. If no buyer is found, Debenhams could close all its UK shops after 242 years in business, putting 12,000 jobs at risk.

One of Ashley’s senior aides, Michael Murray, is working on plans to develop new retail concepts using the Frasers, Sports Direct and Flannels brands.

He is reorganising Sports Direct shops in what he describes as ‘our latest retail concept’, integrating brands including Evans and Game into a single store.

Murray said on social media last month that he was ‘planning to launch an 80,000 sq ft regional flagship’ for the group’s luxury retail chain Flannels.

Debenhams was the second major high street casualty last week, following the collapse of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.