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Ashley hires new chair to Sports Direct

SPORTSWEAR retailer Sports Direct, has ended its two-and-a-half year search for a permanent chairman, by appointing Keith Hellawell, the government&rsquo;s former drugs tsar.<br /><br />The position has been vacant since David Richardson quit the post in May 2007, having decided he could not work with billionaire Mike Ashley, who owns 71 per cent of the group.<br /><br />Simon Bentley, the former chairman and chief executive of Blacks Leisure, has been acting chairman ever since. <br />Bentley will now stay on Sports Direct&rsquo;s board as a non-executive director, but analysts tipped his move to a back-seat role as an opportunity for him to lead a buy-out of struggling Blacks Leisure.<br /><br />Hellawell quit his post as government drugs adviser in 2002 after then home secretary David Blunkett announced plans to downgrade cannabis to a Class B drug.<br /><br />Hellawell is currently the non-executive chairman of Goldshield Group, a UK pharmaceuticals and consumer health company.<br /><br />He will be stepping into the lime-light again to head one of the most talked about firms in retail.<br /><br />Sports Direct, known for its high volume, low-cost strategy is currently the subject of an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into price fixing allegations, and Ashley is as famed for his public battles with rivals as he is for his loss-making football team Newcastle United.<br /><br />A source close to the firm said of Hellawell:&ldquo;He wrote the whole anti-drugs policy and dealt with lots of conflicting points and people &ndash; so he should be able to cope at Sports Direct.&rdquo;<br />