Sports Direct says parliamentary ‘witch hunt’ led to assaults on staff

Sports Direct bosses have accused a former Labour MP of wiping millions off the retailer’s share price and triggering violent assaults on shop staff.

The allegations were made as part of a formal complaint to parliament about Iain Wright’s conduct when he spearheaded an inquiry into the retailer’s working practices.

Wright was also accused of presiding over a “media circus” while he was chair of the business select committee, in a letter from Sports Direct’s chairman Keith Hellawell.

Hellawell said angry calls to Sports Direct’s customer services team more than doubled after the MP conducted a number of interviews during the 2016 investigation.

“On one occasion, the calls included a threat to rape a member of staff, and another caller said that they hoped Sports Direct employees would be diagnosed with cancer,” Hellawell wrote.

“Our staff were also subject to a number of physical assaults and verbal abuse in our stores.

“This coincided with a catastrophic fall in the share price of Sports Direct, which depleted tens of millions of pounds from the value of our share bonus pool for eligible staff.”

Wright’s investigation of working conditions at Sports Direct – which followed a Guardian investigation and resulted in the company’s founder, chief executive and majority shareholder Mike Ashley being hauled before MPs – concluded that its Shirebrook warehouse was run like a “Victorian workhouse”.

Sports Direct criticised the inquiry, saying Wright’s behaviour towards the company “risked undermining confidence” in the select committee process.

The company also claimed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent refusal to appear before MPs could be linked to the “political vilification” faced by Sports Direct.

“In recent times some select committee proceeding have exposed witnesses appearing before them to a form of inquiry that can only be called a ‘public trial’,” Hellawell wrote.

“Public exposure of that kind has the potential in a high-profile case to adversely affect the companies’ and individuals’ fundamental rights including commercial rights, privacy and fair process.”

Responding to Sports Direct’s claims, Wright, who stepped down as an MP before last year’s election, said the committee was right to act because the retailer was “treating agency workers like muck”.

“They make a number of allegations, which I completely and utterly rebut. It was their business model and their treatment of workers that raised those problems,” he said. “I find this whole situation bizarre and baffling, and I think the work that we did really, really stands up as a fantastic example of what a select inquiry can do.”