Framed By The Frogs

CHAPTER 20
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Now, if getting to the truth with Steve Wilson had been a brutal exercise in pulling teeth (not that we actually did anything that vicious, of course), then Carolyn Sample was to be an entirely different kettle of fish.

 

You see, despite being described to me by one of the Renault fraternity as ‘the Rottweiller’, before the upset over BALPA my dealings with Carolyn Sample had been very cordial and I quite liked dealing with her.  She was hard, but fair, as the saying goes.

 

Even her throwaway remark after the first meeting at Renault HQ, when she mentioned that my keeping cars away from supermarkets was in my favour, had suggested that Carolyn Sample knew the score and had an even-handed approach to the realities of what goes on in the motor industry.

 

But maybe this even-handedness had suffered a bit at the prospect of what Renault might do to an employee who was exposed publicly as having turned a blind eye to the grey marketing of cars at cheap prices through Internet brokers? 

Let's not forget what happened to those long-term Renault stalwarts Nick Thame and Martin Hillman not long after Renault’s persecution of me began.  Could the subtle message from the reassignments of Nick Thame and Martin Hillman perhaps have got through to Carolyn Sample in some way?  Might it have in fact influence her testimony?

 

Whatever pressure she might have been under, as Carolyn Sample settled into questioning she presented an air of calm and steadfastness which I had warned Laura about and which we knew would go down well with the Court. 

Carolyn Sample wouldn’t be rattled by the same tactics used so effectively on Steve Wilson.  And so, rather than bludgeon the truth out of her, Laura is going to wait for Carolyn to tell it in her own good time.  The Devil will be in the detail, and from what’s coming out now it looks like we are in for a long wait before he puts in an appearance, the timing of which may well be of his choosing rather than ours.

 

Carolyn’s explaining in detail how the computer system works for paying to Renault Croydon the extra discount rebates on new car sales through the BALPA account, the part of the overall discount that Renault chips into the pot on each car (and usually the biggest part by far).   Stay with us on this one, dear reader, as it becomes quite important later on.

 

Initially Renault Croydon is invoiced by Renault UK for the full price on each car sold through the BALPA account, less just the standard dealer discount of 7%.

But Renault Croydon sold cars to me at the fully discounted price allowed by Renault UK, sometimes up to 30% or so off the list price, so it could be up to 23% out of pocket after each sale.  To compensate for this Renault Croydon gets the extra discount back through a retrospective repayment from Renault UK.

Untouched by human hands (so to speak) a computer system called ‘VERPS’ tracks the daily registration of cars by the Government’s Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency through an overnight electronic data transfer.

 

Once a vehicle registration has been confirmed, and assuming that the dealership has correctly tagged the registration as a corporate sale, VERPS automatically repays the discount rebate to the dealership according to the amount set up for the BALPA account.

 

VERPS also controls the number of cars eligible for the discount rebate, which is quite important.  You see, Renault sets an annual limit on the number of cars that can be sold through each of its corporate accounts.  This allows Renault to monitor precisely what is happening with an account.

Even more importantly, VERPS allows Renault to monitor just how much money it is giving away in discounts to individual corporate customers.  But it also means that throughout the 'BALPA Affair' Renault had to keep on increasing the limit set on VERPS for car sales through the BALPA account because of the huge growth in sales put through the account.

 

If Renault had not continually increased the sales limits over the life of the BALPA account then its own computer systems would have stopped the discount rebates the very first time that the maximum number of eligible cars had been reached, way back in the summer of 2005 and not that long after sales began.

 

This is particularly important, as it meant that Renault was always right on top of precisely how many cars were being sold through the BALPA account.  If it had lost sight of the number at any time then the rebates would have stopped once the limit set in VERPS was reached, a point which would be crucial in relation to a later part of Carolyn’s testimony.

 

And so we will let Carolyn continue with her explanation of the processes that apply to corporate accounts whilst we wait for her to inevitably position herself above the trap door that is carefully being constructed from Carolyn’s exposition on Renault procedures.

 

How do affinity schemes work?  How many car sales do they usually generate?  How did the BALPA account differ from other affinity schemes?  When did Renault start thinking something wasn’t right about the account?  Had Carolyn experienced anyone else selling cars through a corporate account to ineligible customers?

 

Piece by piece, like a game of ‘Hangman’, Laura John is assembling the gallows and Carolyn Sample is edging towards the trap door and the noose.  Laura John is allowing Carolyn Sample to build up a picture of her detailed and extensive knowledge both of Renault procedural systems and the scale and viability (or otherwise) of other affinity schemes.  Carolyn’s painting an incredible background landscape of procedural checks and balances that should have closed down the BALPA account pretty damned quickly if Renault had really wanted to do it.

 

Because, as Carolyn is explaining in her own good time, despite promising much by giving car manufacturers access to attractive markets segments such as airline pilots, most affinity based car purchase schemes don’t usually work very well.  They start with a splutter, then sales build up as awareness grows, then they tail off as the novelty wears thin and certainly none of them generate the volume that had gone through the BALPA account.

 

Not only that but, according to Carolyn Sample, even with a huge employer such as Barclays Bank the employee affinity scheme produced just 86 Renault car sales in a whole year.


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The Microsoft employee scheme had produced only 5 cars in total and the most successful, the Civil Service Motoring Association (‘CSMA’) scheme, produced only 200 cars per annum for Renault from 250,000 eligible members.

 

Yet here was the BALPA account turning in nearly 220 cars in just nine months from only 10,000 eligible members (less than one twentieth of the membership of the CSMA).  If those sales had been genuine then it would have been astonishing and something that Renault would surely have been keen to examine in more detail so that it could try and replicate the technique elsewhere in other schemes?  Unless, of course, Renault already knew that the sales weren’t genuine and therefore didn’t bother to look into it.

 

But when it comes to corporate accounts being misused, Carolyn Sample reckons that Renault is pretty quick off the mark to stamp out corruption; she says that Renault spotted cars being sold illicitly through another account intended for employees of the opticians, Specsaver, and that Renault had closed it down in a couple of weeks, preventing 30 cars from being sold outside the terms of the account.  According to Carolyn something similar had happened with the affinity scheme for The Association of Golf Secretaries.  Renault stomped on each of them ASAP, and effectively.

 

So Carolyn has now explained to the Court that she knows exactly how affinity schemes are monitored, how they can go wrong and just what to do when it happens.

 

And as far as the BALPA account was concerned, Carolyn Sample says that she had suspicions all the way back in September 2005.  She says she thought ‘this isn’t right any more’ after a meeting that she and I had back then when I was introduced to Steve Wilson.  Carolyn says that she had told Steve Wilson to contact me again to arrange another meeting.  And how often did Renault usually meet corporate clients?  Two or three times a year according to Carolyn.

 

But hang on Carolyn, hadn’t Steve Wilson said in his earlier testimony that it was four or five times a year?  Yes, she had, but that was a lie.  Oh?  And who had told Steve to say it.  Carolyn owned up that she had told him to say it.  Ouch.

 

OK Carolyn, so if you suspected something was wrong with the BALPA account, why didn’t you do something about it straight away, close it down in a couple of weeks like Specsaver? 

Well, said Carolyn, they had tried to do something about it.  But it took from September 2005, when Carolyn’s alleged initial suspicions were raised, to May 2006 when the last cars were delivered, rather than a few weeks as in the case of Specsaver.  And you just have to ask yourself  'Why?'.  Nothing to do with Renault’s desperation to make sales targets then?

 

Now Laura wants to know about the web site hacking incident.

 

Yes, Carolyn admits that she had seen the private web site I used to sell cars to brokers.  The user ID and password used to illicitly gain access to the web site had apparently come to her through a colleague, Andy Watkinson (the same Renault area manager who had been responsible for SteerFast, and for one brief moment I wondered if Dopplegänger was behind all of this in some kind of revenge attack).

 

Andy Watkinson had passed the log-in details to Carolyn Sample by e-mail and she had then passed them on to Steve Wilson.  They had then visited the web site.  Then Carolyn said that each one of the three of them had destroyed their copy of the e-mail.  Not only that, but according to Carolyn, the Renault e-mail system would no longer have a back-up of anyone’s copy of the e-mail either ‘because it doesn’t work that way’.

 

Hmmm.  How convenient.  All copies of the e-mail deleted and no back-up.  But isn’t destroying evidence of a crime such as computer hacking a criminal offence in itself?  Well, I guess only time will tell on that one.

But Carolyn’s head is well and truly in the noose now, not least as the deliberate destruction of evidence in a civil case is also a serious infringement of the Civil Procedure Rules that govern how court cases are managed. His Lordship has made no comment on the antics of Carolyn Sample and her colleagues, but I'm guessing that they will not have gone unnoticed.

 

And so, there is only one more thing to ask Carolyn and Laura will allow me to deliver the coup de grace.  I’m up on my feet and asking Carolyn the same question that I asked Steve Wilson.  The one when I challenged Steve about whether he had ever really asked me about who was buying the cars sold through the BALPA account.

 

So, Carolyn, what exactly was I asked about at the meetings?  Carolyn is thinking for a moment, she looks me in the eye and somehow I know she can’t lie here and now, under oath, no matter how humiliating it might be to change her story.

 

‘We asked about the web site.’ she says.

 

The trap door opened under Carolyn, the noose tightened and that was that.  Carolyn Sample had finally told the truth about what had been asked at the meetings, which meant Steve Wilson had lied under oath on the Witness Stand and in his Witness Statements.

 

I sat down with the heaviest of hearts.  I had been vindicated by someone who, somehow, I knew just wouldn’t be able to lie to my face under oath.  But I still wondered just what had caused the myth to be perpetuated until now by Carolyn Sample and Steve Wilson about what had gone on in those meetings.

 

Just what was it that scared Carolyn Sample so much that she was, for so long, prepared to lay down what I’m sure were very high personal standards and, because of that, cause so much misery for me and for my family?

 

I doubt that I will ever know.  In fact, I don’t think that I ever want to know.  And anyway, despite her admission, the Trial still isn’t over and whatever Carolyn Sample has just said, I can’t believe that Renault will give up.  No.  Not at all.  Not for one single moment.


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