Mike Ashley has increased his interest in ailing department store Debenhams once again and, for the first time, has taken a direct stake.

The controversial Sports Direct boss now holds a 21.04% interest in the department store, which is undergoing a major strategic shift under new chief executive Sergio Bucher and chairman Sir Ian Cheshire.

Ashley has been steadily increasing his stake in Debenhams in recent years.

He previously held a 20.27% interest through various financial instruments such as contracts for differences and share options. Now, half of his 21.04% interest is held directly in shares.

When a company or individual acquires more than 30% of a company’s voting rights they are required to launch a mandatory takeover offer.

Ashley is acquisitive in retail, holding various stakes in retailers such as House of Fraser and French Connection in addition to being the majority shareholder of Sports Direct and owner of brands such as luxury lingerie retailer Agent Provocateur and premium fashion fascia Flannels.