In this rather unsavoury case, the somebody is the also unsavoury Mike Ashley. People not in the UK may be unaware of this odious person, so allow me to fill you in on just how much of a shit he is.

First the good news. He owns Newcastle United football club. That’s about it. All the good news, and since it involves football, and you know my opinions about football, it’s not much of a compliment, is it?

Mr Ashley is reputed to be the 15th richest man in the UK. His company, Sports Direct, is in the FTSE 100. Quite some achievement for somebody who left school at 16. Small town boy makes good. However, he hasn’t done this at no cost to others. In fact, the costs to others were very high indeed.

Last year, he was soundly lambasted for the conditions in his workplaces, particularly his warehouses. There would be PA shellackings for staff not working quickly enough. Workers could be sacked on a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ basis for crimes that included excessively long or frequent toilet breaks, and periods of reported sickness. Staff were also subjected to rigorous searches I can see the point here, maybe, but not a 15 minute rigmarole when workers had already clocked of, so were on their own time.

But here’s the real kicker. Turn up one minute late for work, and your pay was docked so severely that the effective pay level was £6-50 an hour, when the minimum wage was at £6-70. That’s one way the billionaire got to be a billionaire.

He allegedly also got to be a billionaire by welching on a deal. Jeffrey Blue, a former investment banker, claims that Ashley promised him a cool 15 million smackers if he could get the share price to over eight quid*. The offer, if it was made, and that’s not established yet, came in the course of a bacchanalia in a pub.

Ashley challenged a member of Mr Blue’s team to a drinking contest involving pints of beer and vodka chasers**. It was a last man standing affair, and the other contestant bowed out. It was at this point that Mr Ashley allegedly threw up in the pub fireplace.

Lots of people have done dumb things under the influence, including hurling. Not many people have done that during a business meeting. He was at work! His workforce are so afraid for their jobs they won’t even take time off when their children are ill, and here he is allegedly puking in office hours because he’s stoked to the gills while doing his job.

Mr Ashley’s QC says the offer was based on, ‘…alcohol fuelled conversations, were clearly banter and never serious.’ In the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies, ‘Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’

The case continues, as they say.

*The shares did hit just over eight quid, but since the revelations about working practices have dropped to just under three. Har dee har.

**Sounds like a night out with the Legend, doesn’t it?

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