Blacks Leisure announced yesterday that Russell Hardy, its chief executive, was leaving 'with immediate effect'. Financial Times. Daily Telegraph. The Independent. The Guardian

At the same time the camping and leisurewear retailer said it was considering 'strategic options' for the development of its Freespirit chain of shops.

Blacks said Hardy's departure was a mutual and amicable decision, and had not been influenced by 29% shareholder Sports Direct International, which is run by entrepreneur Mike Ashley.

The group said it had appointed advisers for a 'wide-ranging' review of Freespirit, its small but successful chain of 49 outdoorwear shops.

Last month Blacks reported a £13.8m loss for the year to 3 March, after taking a £13.9m exceptional charge relating to the closure of 45 Millets stores.