So here we are now, back where I started my story. And
despite how long it’s taken me to tell my tale, Renault's barrister Andrew
Bruce of Serle Court Chambers is still going on, though about what I haven't the
I’ve just looked at my company's barrister, Laura John, and she has given me a look
that says she can't understand him either, so at least it’s not just me, and in fact
His Lordship seems to be having some difficulty understanding exactly what it is that
Andrew Bruce actually wants, which to my unlearned ear seems to be that he should
have his cake and eat it.
In other words, although he has pleaded one thing for his client in the original Claim
document, it seems to me that if Andrew Bruce doesn’t think that the case is going
his way he wants to be able to plead something else at the end of the trial.
Laura is on her feet to raise quite understandable objections. Fortunately
His Lordship reckons that Andrew Bruce should stop and put his revised arguments
in writing and let us all see in detail just what he is on about.
And so the day continues with other legal submissions and pleadings to set out each
side’s store before His Lordship, and this goes on until he has heard quite enough
of the pre-combat blustering, bluffing and swaggering and calls a halt to the day’s
Somehow I’m reminded of the pre-bout weigh-in at a boxing match. Each
side steps up to the scales, posturing and flexing muscles, then the intending combatants
are nose to nose. A few choice words
are exchanged to sharpen the ill-feeling and increase the public spectacle.
Well, despite the posturing here and now, tomorrow we will reconvene and then the
play-fighting will be over and we’ll be down to the real nitty-gritty of the Trial. Personally,
I can’t wait.
We have a short team huddle and Laura explains that she and Andrew Bruce will to and
fro between themselves on amendments to the pre-Trial pleadings so that tomorrow morning
His Lordship can see the final result before we get into hand-to-hand combat. This
will allow Laura to frame her objections to whatever it is that Andrew Bruce
proposes and to review the Trial strategy if necessary.
And so I head home, elated that we have actually begun, but rather confused about
just exactly what it is we have begun, as it seems that legal argument will take up
a lot more of the Trial than I had expected.
I need the Judge to be bombarded with evidence, not legal arguments, because it is
in the facts that my case is strongest, as the tussles with Andrew Bruce in the Pre-Trial
Hearings have shown.
So tonight is probably going to be the most sleepless night I’ve had since this whole
farce began, and believe me, I’ve had a few.
OK, Trial Day Two and, for a few brief minutes, I think I have somehow slipped
into Bill Murray’s character in the film ‘Groundhog Day’, trapped forever in a cycle
of perpetual repetition of the day before.
The Clerk of the Court asks for all mobile phones to be turned off, goes to the anteroom,
returns with His Lordship, then says ‘All stand’ and we do and we bow and then we
all sit down except for Andrew Bruce who once again goes on about his pleadings.
Fortunately this time there is a significantly greater degree of understanding amongst
the legal brains over whatever it was that Andrew Bruce was promoting yesterday,
and so the issue is over and done with before I even have time to consider if a mercy
increase to my medication levels might be required.
And then, almost by stealth, the real Trial gets underway, as Steve
Wilson from Renault steps onto the Witness Stand. After
taking the Oath, confirming his identity and undergoing a light interview with Andrew
Bruce, it is time for Steve Wilson to face the real
cross-examination as Laura John takes over the questioning.
Now, as this will be the beginning of four days of witness cross-examination, and
I can’t write fast enough to keep up with every word said, I’m going to have to paraphrase
for you the evidence of each witness and focus just on the nitty-gritty, nutty, crunchy,
chewy bits of what each one claims or denies (including me), because there will
be a lot of claiming and denying to come over the next four days and, judging by the
Witness Statements I’ve seen so far from Carolyn Sample, Steve
Wilson and Toby Johnstone at Renault, a lot of
it will not be very convincing.
So, whilst what follows won’t be a verbatim record of what’s said over the next
four days, I will try my best to tell the honest gist of each cross-examination without
any twisting of words or mangling of meanings.
But that's not just me playing fair, because up above me in the Courtroom
there’s a microphone. Every word that is said in Court will be recorded throughout
the entire Trial, which means that I will soon be found out if I do perverse things
with the testimony given by each witness. And
I really don’t want to be back in Court defending another legal action. No
But you aren’t going to read all the Witness Statements and other documents (by now
the pile of evidence must be two feet high), so I’ll fill in the gaps in some of the
testimony when necessary, especially if what the witness says on the stand is contradicted
by the evidence. And if the witnesses
don’t answer questions in order to avoid incriminating themselves, I’ll do it for
them. After all, this is my book, not theirs.
What that means is, for the next few chapters, my tale will be something of a pot-pourri,
comprising the testimony of witnesses and some of the other evidence upon which the
Judge will eventually base his decision. And
then you too can decide.
But meanwhile, let us return to Steve Wilson, around
whom a very elaborate and unfortunate trap seems to be about to close.
Now, in his Witness Statements Steve Wilson has consistently
pursued the theme that Renault (being whiter than white and never, ever, countenancing
the illicit use of its highly discounted corporate client accounts to sell cars to
retail customers) had held suspicions for some time about the number of vehicles being
sold through the BALPA account and just exactly who was buying them.
And Steve has claimed throughout his testimony so far that he and his boss, Carolyn
Sample, have repeatedly asked me about just who was actually buying the cars and that
I have consistently told them that the cars were sold only to BALPA members.
Obtaining a confession from Steve Wilson that this
is totally untrue looks remote, particularly as Steve has signed declarations of truth
at the end of both of his witness statements. In
the light of this, Laura and I have agreed that her Trial strategy will be to (a)
test Steve’s claims against the other evidence and (b) undermine the proposition that
Steve and Carolyn Sample didn’t know exactly
what was going on all the time anyway.
Laura will concentrate on demonstrating that Steve and Carolyn have deliberately posed
limited questions to me about the BALPA account knowing that I could answer them quite
truthfully. The reason for this? So
that Steve and Carolyn could then ‘tick the boxes’ over security on the BALPA web
site for the benefit of their superiors at Renault, when in fact the issue of web
site security is just a façade because, between us all (Renault, Steve
Wilson, Carolyn Sample, Toby Johnstone and me),
everyone knew just what was really happening with the cars.
And Laura will also set out to prove that this charade would allow Steve
Wilson and Carolyn Sample to cover up their knowledge
of what has happened, reporting back to Renault that the BALPA account was being operated
properly, when in fact they both knew perfectly well that this wasn’t the case, even
though this didn’t matter anyway, because Renault was continually authorising more
and more cars to be sold through the BALPA account and regularly promoting increases
to the discounts to keep the car sales Merry-Go-Round turning.
And the motive for all of this?
Well, last, but not least, Laura will demonstrate that Renault desperately needed
the extra sales made through the BALPA account (irrespective of the true identity
of the purchasers) so that it could do something, anything in fact, to make up for
the decline in sales of its new cars.
My part, thankfully, will be a little less demanding -
I am to ask a few seemingly gentle questions at the end of each cross-examination.
My questions will allow the Judge to pull together any loose threads from the witness
testimony but will also minimise the prospect of me totally screwing up the job
Laura has already done by the time I stand up and open my mouth. At
least I think Laura put it to me that way round, though maybe her priorities
were in the reverse order. No pressure
Whichever way round, I don’t envy Laura her task. Each
of Renault’s witnesses has produced Statements that are, on the face of it, compelling
and extremely damaging, some might even think that they were professionally constructed
by experts to be so, not least as they are written, by and large, in a form of language
that I have never heard any of the witnesses use in conversation. A
bit like watching a policeman give evidence in an Ealing Studios comedy film.
“Hi wos proceeding halong the ‘igh street in a northerly direction when hi hobserved
the haccusesed’s posterior wot was dangling from han hopen whindow.” Well,
maybe quite not that bad, but you get my meaning. Contrived.
Artificial. Unreal. Hmmm.
But as far as Trial strategy is concerned, Laura John’s approach to the pre-Trial
evidence has worked well and, by following her lead even when she wasn’t around for
guidance, I have managed to drag out of Renault some important contradictions and
unsustainable claims, so I’m sure she knows exactly what she’s doing with the Trial
strategy, though perhaps I shouldn’t yet make the same claim for my own Defence.
Anyway, back to Steve Wilson, who under gentle
(but nevertheless stealthy and persistent) encouragement from Laura John, has just
ignored The Spade Rule yet again; he’s picked it up and has started digging his own
grave as a witness.
You see, before the Trial I gave Laura John briefings on each of the witnesses. A
written point-by-point critique of their evidence, plus a verbal profile of what they
might be like under cross examination, what I know of their character and my impressions
of their strengths and weaknesses. And
now Laura will take all of that and use it to deconstruct them on the witness stand,
one by one.
So what did I tell Laura about Steve Wilson? Well,
first of all, his credentials. Before
his job with Renault, Steve Wilson didn’t sell cars. He
was in fact a tyre salesman, and so he was dropped in at the deep end of business-to-business
vehicles sales by Renault, dealing not only with very sophisticated vehicle fleet
buyers for large corporate customers, but also with some very experienced and wily
corporate sales staff in the Renault dealerships on his turf. Staff
who knew just how to work the system to their advantage, as my experiences were to
Around the time of ‘The BALPA Affair’ Steve Wilson’s
wife was expecting their first child, so I speculated that if she had previously worked
for a living, the arrival of ‘junior’ may have meant a loss of household income and
therefore extra pressure on Steve to bring home the bacon. Perhaps
this was even the reason for his move to Renault.
Once in his new job, Steve Wilson would have been keen
to impress his new masters, and therefore perhaps he might have been keen to cover
up any shortcomings in his performance as well. All
speculation by me, but not entirely unreasonable speculation given those circumstances.
And I figured that, as a new boy at Renault, Steve might be malleable, probably
the most likely of all the Renault witnesses to follow the corporate mantra set out
in his witness statements, where he had claimed that he had asked me repeatedly about
who had been buying the cars and that I had told him each time that it was only BALPA
Because of this I reckoned Steve Wilson would probably
continue to follow the corporate line on the witness stand, whatever evidence was
thrown in to discredit his story. But
that would be to our advantage because, if Steve Wilson stuck
to his story when it was blatantly undermined by evidence, he would do our job for
us as far as his credibility was concerned.
Laura has decided that any cross-examination would focus on evidence versus the sandy
foundations of Steve’s Witness Statements. And
Laura hasn’t wasted any time exposing the contradictions. In fact, I have to
say, she’s done it rather ruthlessly. But
this isn’t a game and Laura has neither the time (nor, I think, the inclination) to
be gentle with him.
So, into cross-examination. When had
Renault first become concerned about sales under the BALPA account? Steve
reckons that after my first meeting with him there had been some doubts, but otherwise
nothing significant until about two months later. In
which case, why did Steve want a meeting with me just four weeks after that first
meeting ‘to challenge me’ as Toby had said?
Well, according to Steve Wilson, it was normal Renault
practice for area managers to visit customers four or five times a year, so I would
have been due another visit shortly anyway.
So, at the meeting, according to Steve in his first Witness Statement, I left the
room and returned ‘…. with a lever arch file. He
waved this at me and said he kept records of all BALPA registration documents ….’,
suggesting that all I did was to show Steve that such a file existed.
But in my own first Witness Statement, which Steve Wilson wouldn’t
have seen when he wrote his version of events, I explained in detail that not only
had I produced the file, but I had actually left Steve alone with the file for quite
some time whilst I went off to make tea and biscuits. So
now it was time for Steve to cover his tracks.
In Steve Wilson’s second Witness Statement, rushed
out somewhat hastily to deny the incriminating things I had said in my first Statement,
Steve effectively admitted that his first Statement wasn’t quite everything on this
topic. In the second Witness Statement Steve
Wilson said that the file was indeed left with him, but this time Steve stated
that whilst I was gone he didn’t take a look inside it.
Well Steve, that does seem a little bit odd, to say the least. You
and your bosses are concerned that cars have gone where they shouldn’t have.
Then you’re presented with a file of the very documents which could be used
to allay your concerns (if you really had any).