SHAREHOLDERS in Sports Direct will cast a deciding vote on whether the brother of chief executive Mike Ashley should be handed an £11m back payment by the firm.

The retailer has called a general meeting next month to address the issue after a report found John Ashley - former IT director at Sports Direct - had pocketed less money than "other senior executives who helped build the company".

A joint investigation by the firm's legal advisers RPC and independent accountants Smith & Williamson claims he was not given the extra money because of concerns over public relations.

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While Sports Direct's billionaire founder Mike Ashley, who owns Newcastle United, and the rest of the board have abstained from voting, a statement by the firm said they were "supportive of the resolution".

The move comes after investors questioned the board at September's annual general meeting (AGM) over the back pay still owed to some staff after the retailer admitted to paying warehouse workers below the national minimum wage in 2016.

In a statement, Mike Ashley said: "I intend to voluntarily abstain from the vote on whether or not John should receive the money that he would otherwise have earned at Sports Direct if he were not my brother.

"I fully expect that independent shareholders will vote against this proposal due to the passage of time involved, although in my opinion, technically the money is owed and therefore should be paid.

"It's important for me to say that if John had owed one pound to Sports Direct, I would have ensured any sum was repaid in full.

"I hope shareholders will therefore be reassured that everything is in order and that any concerns are laid to rest."

Sports Direct pulled back from a deal in June which paid a portion of the international sales to John Ashley's delivery management company Barlin Delivery.

The retailer has called the meeting for 11am on Wednesday, December 13 at its Shirebrook headquarters in Derbyshire, where it holds its AGMs.

Mike Ashley added: "I always put the interests of Sports Direct ahead of my own.

"An example of this was the loan facility for £250m that I previously made available to the company.

"No arrangement fees or commitment fees were ever charged on this facility, which was capped at an interest rate of 0.5 per cent.

"This was at least 50 per cent below the prevailing rate that Sports Direct was paying at the time, and the facility saved the company in excess of £1m.

"I want you to know that I will continue to put Sports Direct first as we move forward together."

The uncertainty surrounding John Ashley's pay follows a turbulent few years for the company, punctuated by criticism from MPs and unions over the "Victorian" working conditions at its Shirebrook warehouse.

In September, Sports Direct's under-fire chairman Keith Hellawell escaped a full-blown investor revolt after the majority of independent shareholders backed his re-election.

Despite mounting criticism of his stewardship, the former West Yorkshire Police chief constable scraped a majority backing at the company's AGM, with 53 per cent supporting his re-appointment.