The family behind retail giant Matalan is understood to be vying to buy collapsed retailer Republic as administrator Ernst & Young closes the first tranche of its stores.

Sources told Retail Week that Jason Hargreaves, son of Matalan founder John Hargreaves, is understood to be leading a bid for Republic.

Matalan has been vying to widen its retail portfolio. John Hargreaves was in the running to buy JJB Sports before its sale to rival Sports Direct and last month drafted in former JJB boss Tom Knight, who is understood to be launching a sportswear chain with the Matalan group.

Last year, John Hargreaves’ daughter Maxine Hargreaves-Adams bought womenswear retailer Fenn Wright Manson out of administration.

Ernst & Young today shut Republic stores in Dundee, Stirling, Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh, Silverburn in Glasgow and Glasgow Fort.

The administrator said the stores were identified for closure due to “timing and quantum of the rent payments coupled with their recent performance”.

Joint administrator Hunter Kelly said: “It is regrettable that we have had to schedule these store closures and we are extremely grateful to the employees and management at all the stores for their loyalty and support during what has been a very difficult and uncertain time.

Sources said a further 25 stores were due to close imminently however the administrator insisted that the remaining 116 shops would continue to trade.

Ernst & Young appointed property agent Savills to handle Republic’s store portfolio last week.

The administrator is understood to have received 10 expressions of interest for the young fashion retailer when the deadline passed last Wednesday.

Blue Inc, chaired by former Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose, and Sports Direct are understood to be among the front runners to snap up Republic, which collapsed into administration two weeks ago.

Matalan declined to comment.