Framed By The Frogs

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Next up to the Witness Stand is Keith Hayles.  Keith was a corporate sales executive at Renault Croydon at one time and had sat next to Toby Johnstone.  When Toby Johnstone wasn’t around or was on the phone Keith Hayles would take his calls and vice versa.


Now Keith Hayles and I had got on well on the occasions that we had spoken to each other.  Every now and again I would call Toby Johnstone and Keith Hayles would answer the phone instead. 

Sometimes Keith would be able to deal with my enquiry and other times we would pass the time of day conversing about nothing in particular whilst I waited for Toby Johnstone to finish a telephone conversation.  Often we would joke about Toby and sometimes in conversations with Toby it was Keith who would be the butt of jokes.  All light-hearted banter, but Keith Hayles and I hadn’t actually met each other.


But then Toby Johnstone invited me to attend Renault Croydon’s annual client Christmas Lunch at The Sanderson Hotel in London ’s West End .  It was the usual boozy pre-Christmas corporate affair, with a champagne reception at noon and lunch at about 1:00pm, and in between plenty to drink, and still more over the course of the afternoon.  Toby Johnstone wasn’t a champagne man, so he was indulging in imported lagers instead.


During lunch Toby and I sat together at a table, with Toby Johnstone on my right, Mark Nagel from the Civil Service Motoring Association on my left and, next to him, Renault's Martin Hillman (yes reader, THAT Martin Hillman, later sidelined by Renault along with their National Corporate Sales Manager, Nick Thame), plus some other guests of Renault Croydon. 

Now, despite the fact that the other people at that table can corroborate my description of the seating plan, and that a posh hotel like The Sanderson may even still have the seating plan filed away somewhere in the booking papers, in his evidence Toby Johnstone had initially denied that we even sat next to each other.  That's how far Toby Johnstone was prepared to go to (literally) distance himself from me, but just how far would Keith Hayles be prepared to go? 


Well, throughout the lunch Toby Johnstone and I indulged in the usual businessman’s small talk along with the other guests then, after lunch, when other customers had started to drift away, Toby and I moved over to another table in the dining room where Keith Hayles was sitting. 

Inevitably the three of us were soon discussing car sales and the state of the motor trade in general and the conversation eventually swung round to the BALPA account. 

Now whilst I can’t recall who first raised the subject, we talked together about industry attitudes to the use of corporate accounts to sell cars to retail customers who weren’t exactly eligible to buy them.


In the course of the discussion Toby Johnstone said, and I have to say that I don’t recall his exact words so I will be careful here, that he didn’t think that Renault would be bothered about what was happening with the BALPA account because it was known that the cars that I sold through the account did not end up on car supermarket forecourts (a theme which seemed to run throughout this affair). 

It was obvious where the cars sold through the BALPA account were going, as the cars were registered in the names of the actual end-customers and delivered by Renault Croydon to their homes or work places, with a home or work telephone number provided in case of any delays on the delivery day.


Now that would have been a perfectly normal conversation to happen between three people from the motor industry who did important and lucrative business together in the circumstances that we did.


But Toby Johnstone had denied even sitting next to me at the Christmas lunch and Keith Hayles has just gone into the witness stand and denied that the conversation I have just related ever took place.


Keith Hayles said that the only conversation that he had with me that day was when we all left the dining room after lunch and moved to the bar for a final drink.  At that time, Keith alleged, we just made small talk and then we both left and walked to the Underground station together.  During that brief walk Keith asked if I would mind if he contacted me in the New Year, as he was leaving Renault Croydon to join a Jaguar dealership.  Always looking for potential suppliers, I had agreed to his suggestion.


Now the bit in his evidence about us making small talk at the bar and the conversation on the way to the Tube was absolutely true.  It was just the bit before that which we differed on.


Now my company's barrister, Laura John, isn’t going to beat about the bush with Keith Hayles, just quietly erase his credibility; he was a witness to get through quickly and without fuss. 

A bit of a misfit at Renault Croydon, or so he seemed to me, Keith Hayles had been around the motor industry for twenty years or more and probably was the oldest in the entire sales team by some years, yet between him and Toby Johnstone, Keith always appeared to me be the more junior of the two salesmen.


So, asked Laura, how many jobs had Keith had since leaving Renault Croydon?  Three jobs, according to Keith.  Three jobs in just over 18 months?  Yes.  And in between these jobs he had been unemployed as well.  And what was he now?  An ‘Overseas Property Consultant’.  I can see that Laura must be tempted to say ‘Do you mean “Timeshare Salesman” Mr Hayles?’, but I’m glad that she hasn’t.  We aren’t in the business of belittling witnesses just for the Hell of it, though given their track record Renault may well try it on with me later.


So Laura is still pursuing the theme, and Keith Hayles has to own up that, because of his itinerant employment history over the past 18 months, he is still beholding to Renault for a job reference, as they have been his longest standing employer for quite some time.


And now Laura has moved on the Christmas lunch.  Wouldn’t it be natural to talk about the BALPA car sales?  No, it was never discussed according to Keith.  Even though it was the one piece of common ground between you all at that time?  No, according to Keith the conversation never took place.  But you were businessmen, surely you discussed business?  No, Keith maintained his position.  Are you seriously saying that at a corporate ‘Thank You’ lunch for business customers you never discussed business?  No, Keith says it wasn’t discussed.


Despite it being only October it was looking rather like panto season had arrived early.  'Oh no we didn't' is Keith Hayles's response to everything Laura puts to him. Denial follows denial and I feel like tugging Laura’s gown to get her to sit down - there's no point in continuing here.  But in fact she has anticipated me, she’s seen sense and finally given up.  At least I think that she has given up.  But hold on a minute, now I can see the sly look on Laura John's face as she turns towards me and sits down.  Laura John hasn’t actually given up at all. 

What Laura has actually done is to quite discreetly get Keith Hayles to paint a picture for the Court of either sheer incompetence or complete fabrication on his part.  Take your pick, Your Lordship.  Because why would you spend a fortune on a blow-out Christmas Lunch for customers at a swanky London hotel and then not talk to those customers about business?  For a frontline car dealership like Renault Croydon it would be a complete waste of time and money. 



Despite the image, businessmen’s lunches are hard work, no matter how much the alcohol flows and the fine food follows.  In fact, it’s probably a truism to say that’s why the alcohol flows first and then the fine food follows afterwards.  Nothing like alcohol on an empty stomach to soften up customers for business! 

And so Laura John has craftily pursued Keith Hayles on this one simple issue of what was discussed until she thinks that she has got the point over to His Lordship and then left the rest to common sense.


Now I need to be very careful here.  What Laura has done is both simple yet quite sophisticated and I don’t want to cock it up with my taxman’s third-degree grilling style, so even though Keith Hayles will probably be one of the easiest witnesses to cross-examine, I’m going to stick to my agreed role and ask only a couple of brief questions.


Yes, Keith agrees that the drinking started at noon.  And yes, the atmosphere at the event could well be described as ‘convivial’.  And so, taking my cue from Laura I shall now sit down and leave it for His Lordship to ponder just exactly how loose-tongued people might become during three or four hours of drinking at someone else’s expense amongst business ‘friends’, even though Keith Hayles claims to have been teetotal throughout the event.


So Keith departs from the witness stand and it is now the turn of a rather odd witness.  Not odd in the sense that there is anything strange about him, but odd that Renault should have produced him as a witness, because once again it highlights a seemingly weird Trial strategy by their lawyers.


You see, in the pre-Trial processes I had agreed with Renault’s lawyers that no expert witnesses would be called by either side.  But despite that, Renault has deviously tried to slip in one by the back door. 

Why?  Well, in the original defence documents I said that the use of corporate accounts for supplying cars to the retail customers of car brokers is common place in the motor industry and that car manufacturers tolerate it as long as it is done discreetly.  It is only to be expected that Renault will dispute this, because it is a fundamental part of its case that it does not tolerate such activity, absolutely never, ever, definitely not.  Hell, no!  Not at all.


But Renault disputing my allegation is one thing (especially in view of e-mails such as the one from Peter Genari, asking if Herds of Isleworth can use the BALPA account to sell some cars).  Renault actually getting into the Trial some independent corroboration of its alleged anti-corruption stance is another matter entirely.  So, might Renault perhaps attempt to sneak into the Trial a witness who would try and corroborate its story for the benefit of the Court?  Hell, yes!  Renault is having a go, in the form of one Nick Gauntlett, of The Car Company.


You see, Mr Gauntlett was the runner-up, AKA Loser, in the competition to be the administrator of the BALPA car purchase scheme.  But, it turns out, he was not the gallant loser one might have hoped for, because Mr Gauntlett had apparently kept in touch with Colin Sambrook at BALPA and had  unsuccessfully tried to pitch in to supply company cars to the union on a couple of occasions.


Now Mr Gauntlett has signed a Witness Statement proclaiming that ‘I had a lot of knowledge of the [motor] industry …. and specifically with affinity schemes’.  And that makes him an expert on affinity schemes as far as Renault is concerned.  Maybe worth sneaking into the proceedings as someone who, Renault presumably thinks, will speak authoratively on the witness stand and back up their claims that they do not tolerate the use of corporate accounts to supply a grey market in their cars.


But we know better.


You see, by the time we got to Trial I’d already done my homework about Mr Gauntlett and The Car Company.  It turned out that Mr Gauntlett had only gained one affinity scheme client, the Country Land & Business Association (‘CLA’).  And guess what?  Renault was the only volume car manufacturer to offer a special deal to CLA members.  Cosy or what?


And as for Mr Gauntlett’s vast experience of affinity schemes, just before the Trial the last accounts for The Car Company to April 2006 showed cash in the bank of £1,753 and liabilities of £6,929.  The company was actually too small to be required to publish detailed accounts, which hardly suggested a vast amount of trading in affinity scheme cars, or any others, which would give credibility to Nick Gauntlett's claims.


To put this into perspective, my company’s turnover for 2006 was over £5m, and even that was overshadowed by my old nemesis Dopplegänger, who had turned in over £12m in his halcyon days.


So, we are ready and waiting for Nick Gauntlett.  Instead of being Renault’s expert witness, he’s going to be ours.  It’s just that neither he nor Renault knows it yet.  Oh dear.


Well, Laura John asks, based on Mr Gauntlett’s extensive ‘knowledge’, how many cars sales would he expect to see generated in an affinity scheme?  Nick Gauntlett’s response is that a ratio of one car, per thousand members, per year, would be about the level of sales to be expected.  Which would have made the sales under the BALPA account of around 20 cars per thousand members in just nine months somewhat eye-poppingly obvious to anyone involved, especially to Renault.  Unless, of course, Renault was turning a blind eye to what was happening anyway.


And then there was Renault’s willingness to participate in the BALPA affinity scheme, of which Nick Gauntlett said that they ‘…. were more prepared to provide discounts at that time than some of the other manufacturers.’  Might that have had anything to do with their seriously declining sales volumes around that time (down nearly a third, remember) and their desperate need to sell cars?  And to do so by any means possible?


But most interestingly, and probably the final nail in the coffin of Steve Wilson’s and Carolyn Sample’s credibility, is that Nick Gauntlett has just blabbed under oath that it is he who had brokered, and had then been present at, the meeting between BALPA, Steve and Carolyn at which they had first laid out their allegations about my business ‘abusing’ the BALPA account.  Christ, remembering back to their original ambush of me at Renault's HQ, it seems that when they hold a meeting Renault invites just about everyone they can lay their hands on.


Now although both Carolyn’s and Steve’s witness statements covered this meeting with BALPA, neither of them made any mention at all of Nick Gauntlett’s presence at the meeting.  Now why might that have been?  And not only that, but in his Witness Statement Steve Wilson actually said ‘I arranged the meeting’.  So now we have a competition over who actually arranged the meeting with BALPA.  But presumably only one of the competitors could be telling the truth?  Which, by my simple reckoning, means one of them was lying.


Somehow it seems to me that Renault’s whole approach to this case is ‘never mind the truth, just give us back our money’.  Well, bollocks to that.  And so, with that incisive critical analysis fixed firmly in mind, I can see that witness testimony for Renault is complete.  So now it is my turn on the stand.  Gulp.

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