SPORTS Direct bosses sparked anger last night after sending an email to staff saying they would remain open - just minutes after a UK-wide lockdown was announced to halt the spread of Covid-19.

Mike Ashley's Fraser Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, claimed that they were "uniquely well placed" to help the UK keep fit and deemed itself a vital service.

In the email, sent shortly after Boris Johnson announced non-essential retailers would close, Finance chief Chris Wootton wrote: "We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home... indeed home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself.

"Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the Government's current social distancing guidance).

"There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population."

The finance chief, who is unlikely to be putting himself at risk of catching Covid-19, signed off "Thanks for your incredible efforts during this time."

Speaking to The Sun, one Sports Direct employee said: “I think it's absolutely disgusting at a time when the Nation is facing the biggest crisis in modern history that Sports Direct are willing to risk the health and well-being of their employees and the general public to commercially exploit the retail market."

“They are not an essential retailer by any stretch of the imagination and they should put people before pounds.”

Following a backlash the Fraser Group, estimated to be worth £1.977 billion according to the Sunday Times Rich List, announced that stores would be closing after all.