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
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
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.
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.