Relatives of the late Laura Ashley have further distanced themselves from the firm that bears her name by selling 2.5 million shares.

The sale, announced this week, follows the sale of 1.5 million shares last month by trusts set up for Ms Ashley's family, and brings their holding below 12 per cent.

The firm, one of the star performers of the retail sector in the 1970s and 1980s, has suffered a series of management changes since Mrs Ashley's death in 1985.

Malayan United Industries now earn 40 per cent of the firm, which in September posted its first profits for three years.