Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has won a high court battle with an investment banker over a £15m payout promise made in a pub.

A judge said this morning that Ashley’s pledge to give Jeff Blue £15m if he helped boost Sports Direct’s share price to £8 was “jocular” and that “there was no one present in the Horse & Groom pub who thought that it was genuine.”

Mr Justice Leggatt said: “The fact that Jeffery Blue deemed that it was genuine only proves the human capacity for wishful thinking has few boundaries.”

Blue had claimed that Ashley paid him only £1m and asked for £14m in damages.

The conversation, which took place in the Horse & Groom pub on Great Portland Street in London four years ago, occurred after Ashley said he had “consumed a lot of alcohol”.

’Unorthodox ways’

Ashley told the court: “I can’t remember the details of the conversations that we had in the pub as it was a heavy night of drinking. I do remember that we had a lot of drinks and a lot of banter.

“If I did say to Mr Blue that I would pay him £15m if he could increase [Sports Direct’s] share price to £8, it would be obvious to everyone, including Mr Blue, that I wasn’t being serious.”

However, Blue had insisted that Ashley did business “in unorthodox ways and in unusual venues”.

He also told how Ashley once vomited into a fireplace after a senior management meeting that took place in a pub.

Ashley was not in present to hear the judge deliver his verdict, but his lawyers said he had won a “comprehensive” victory.