Tom Richmond: Sorry saga of Sports Direct shames former police chief

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley empties his pockets of bank notes  during a mock search at the Sports Direct headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire.
Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley empties his pockets of bank notes during a mock search at the Sports Direct headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire.
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AS a no-nonsense police chief, Keith Hellawell’s reaction would have been incredulous if he had been asked to accede to a career burglar’s request not to be prosecuted for a year in case the criminal became a reformed character.

Yet this is precisely what the one-time chief constable of West Yorkshire Police is requesting after 53 per cent of independent shareholders voted against his reappointment as chairman of shamed tycoon Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct empire.

After this rebuff at a chaotic AGM which saw the vulgar Ashley empty his pockets of a wad of £50 notes before he went through security scanners at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse, where low-waged staff have been subjected to ‘Victorian’ working practices, Dr Hellawell requested another year in post to put matters right.

That’s right – the very person who became company chairman in 2009, and who patently failed to provide sufficient corporate oversight of employment practices which were morally wrong and certainly broke the spirit of the law when it came to the payment of the minimum wage, now wants the time to do what he, and his boardroom colleagues, should have done years ago.

This is how bad it is – Sports Direct, a firm which brings capitalism into disrepute, cannot even trace all those former staff who were left shortchanged before the firm’s failings were exposed.

I accept that Dr Hellawell, who still lives in West Yorkshire, did offer his resignation before being persuaded to stay, because he believes he has the know-how to put matters right.

I disagree. If there had been a spike in crime in a particular area, he would have removed the inspector concerned. It’s the same with Sports Direct – how can its long-suffering employees have confidence in their management?

Theresa May now needs to accelerate her business reforms so there’s greater representation of employees on company boards and better safeguards for staff. If she succeeds, blue collar workers across the country will be in her debt, while the likes of Keith Hellawell and Mike Ashley will no longer be able to ride roughshod over their staff. From the Government’s point of view, it’s a price worth paying...

THE most depressing political sight of the week had to be all the empty spaces on the Labour front bench when Haltemprice and Howden MP David Davis made his first Commons statement as Brexit Secretary.

Good government requires good opposition, and Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet is, frankly, an embarrassment to the democratic process.

After tipping – correctly – human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti for a peerage when she agreed to carry out an anti-Semitism review, there’s every likelihood that she will be the party’s next shadow justice secretary.

What I can’t understand, however, is why Lady Chakrabarti seems so reluctant to stand for election herself when she has devoted so much of her career to encouraging public participation in the political process.

One word – hypocrisy.

SHE doesn’t get any better, does she? I refer to the over-promoted Elizabeth Truss and her first appearance in the Commons as Justice Secretary.

Asked a serious question on prison safety, there was an awkward pause before Speaker John Bercow requested a Minister at the Dispatch Box.

As Leeds-born Ms Truss rose to her feet, she told MPs: “Forgive me, Mr Speaker; I think that the summer recess has taken its toll on my memory of Parliamentary procedure.”

I, for one, bet she has already forgotten all those Yorkshire flooding victims she let down as Environment Secretary.

THE disclosure that nearly £2bn has been paid to health chiefs in redundancy settlements since the Government began its NHS reforms reveals the sheer weight of top-heavy management. No wonder doctors in the Vale of York had been contemplating rationing care to the obese – all the money is going on a management structure run by bureaucrats for bureaucrats rather than NHS patients.

How about a new rule? At least 100 new nurses and doctors have to be recruited before the contractual paperwork for a single £100,000 a year executive can be signed off.

IT’S a start. three weeks ago, I called for future rail fare increases and decreases to be linked to reliability and punctuality. Now the Department for Transport is speeding up plans that will enable passengers to receive compensation if train operators are at fault for delays in excess of 30 minutes. They will also have to be recompensed in cash rather than travel vouchers. Rail minister Paul Maynard says he wants “to strengthen the rights of passengers for poor service”. He should now go the extra mile...

IT’S clearly a bad year for television, with Sarah Lancashire named best actress at the TV Choice awards for her portrayal of police officer Catherine Cawood in the series Happy Valley which was set in the Calder Valley.

The judges clearly have better hearing than most viewers, who either switched off, or watched with the aid of sub-titles, because the central characters mumbled.

Meanwhile ITV stand in the dock this week for offences against crime fiction. Richmond author Peter Robinson’s fictional detective, DCI Alan Banks, is clearly a North Yorkshire policeman based in a market town (Eastvale for the purpose of these quite brilliant books).

Yet, once again, the new TV series of DCI Banks, in which the so-so actor Stephen Tompkinson plays the leading role, revolves around Leeds and lacks authenticity as a result. It’s akin to moving DI Roy Grace, the central character in the Peter James books, from Brighton to London.

SO the Amazon Dash Button claims to be able to re-order your favourite product, and have it delivered to your home, with the simple push of a button. I’ll believe it when it it’s able to source a regular supply of Morrisons skimmed milk...

I don’t know which element of the operation will be the more challenging.

THE BBC’s commitment to promoting Olympic sport hasn’t lasted long. The latest leg of triathlon’s world series, won in Edmonton, Canada, by Rio silver medallist Jonny Brownlee, was shunted to the red button last Sunday night – further evidence that the Corporation is only interested in sport once every four years.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk