Debenhams handover is expected to trigger a wave of store closures

Future of Kent stores remains unclear

The move allows the struggling business access to new funds to keep it afloat and comes after a last-minute stg£200m (€231m) offer by Mike Ashley's Sports Direct - which owned 30% of the business - was rejected.

Debenhams is expected to go through a pre-pack administration, which would mean current shareholders - including Mr Ashley who owns almost 30% of the chain - would be wiped out. They sold the group to its creditors including British banks and US hedge funds. Mr Ashley's 30pc stake, acquired by Sports Direct at a cost of £150m, has been wiped out along with the rest of the equity.

A spokesman for the Debenhams Pension Schemes said: "Debenhams Retail Limited has been transferred to a newly-incorporated company and continues to trade and operate as normal".

"Stores will remain open for the foreseeable future, but as it's now in the hands of the lenders, it's only a matter of time before stores begin to close, changes are made to decrease the debt and consumers feel the brunt of this".

Debenhams earlier rejected a £150 million rescue bid from Sports Direct.

"The company's lenders have confirmed to the company that the proposal, on the terms set out, was not sufficient to justify an extension to the April 8 deadline".

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While the shops would continue trading for now, Debenhams has proposed closing around 50 branches from next year and renegotiating rents with landlords to tackle its funding problems.

Richard Lim, chief executive at Retail Economics, said: "We should not understate the significance of this collapse given the vast property portfolio, number of jobs impacted and the reverberations felt across many high streets".

Mr Ashley's attempts to take control of Debenhams had become increasingly desperate, and over the weekend the businessman demanded the board be investigated, two members to undergo lie detector tests and trading in its shares to be suspended.

"The board confirms that it received a revised, highly-conditional, proposal from Sports Direct in the early hours of April 9, which indicated a willingness of Sports Direct to underwrite an equity issue of £200 million", Debenhams said in a statement.

Suppliers, workers, pension holders and customers will also not be affected.

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