Framed By The Frogs

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - .... Steve Wilson just did not strike me as the kind of guy who would take to prison food ....
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Despite everyone’s best efforts, Christmas was a miserable event.  We had rented a house close to the River Thames in West London, but even long walks with the dog in Richmond Park , spying on the deer on crisp, sunny mornings, or strolls along the river bank watching the water traffic and the holiday-happy promenaders just couldn’t lift the spirits.


Our house was gone and most of the normal signposts of happy family life were packed in boxes in a cold storage depot.  My lawyers were finished and I was facing the first hearing for the case alone, a preliminary conference in January before a Master of the Court to agree the trial timetable.  I hadn’t got a clue what would be involved, but having decided that I was going it alone there was nothing I could do about that but turn up and watch and learn.


Renault had all the advantages on its side.  A comprehensive Claim document full of allegations, a top legal team, witnesses who probably felt quite confident about their stories and, no doubt, would feel even more so once someone had refreshed their memories about what was alleged to have taken place.


But it wasn’t all doom and gloom.  Just before the move I caught up with a whole bunch of paperwork whilst I was clearing out some of the accumulated dust magnets that you get after 15 years in one place.  And in amongst the documents that I rediscovered in my study was a pile of old unread mail. I must have put it to one side and then popped some other papers on top and forgotten about it.  Amongst the letters was a motor trade magazine still in the plastic postal wrapper.  I opened it and as I thumbed through the pages my eyes nearly popped out at the headline on an article.




As I read on I realised that it wasn’t just me that had taken a hit in the purge clearly going on at Renault.  Not even Renault’s own staff were immune to what was happening.  When I very first met Toby Johnstone some years ago I had also met the head of Renault’s Corporate Sales Department, a very pleasant chap called Nick Thame.  Nick was the UK Corporate Sales Manager to whom Carolyn Sample reported.  Now Renault pours tens of millions of pounds every year into discounts for its corporate customers and Nick was the one responsible for deciding who got those discounts and just exactly how much of a share in his massive multi-million pound budget they would get.


Ultimately Nick would have been responsible for sanctioning the ever increasing discounts that were allocated to the BALPA account.  And now, after years of managing millions of pounds of Renault’s money, Nick had been sidelined, sent to look after ‘dealer support’.


Now in the motor industry, dealer support is not exactly a high powered posting, probably not much more than checking that dealers have enough brochures and the right tools for servicing.  Some cruel folk might say it’s an end-of-career posting for someone who isn’t going to go any further with their employer, but who can’t be sacked, a way of hinting to an employee that it is about time they built up their pension fund elsewhere.  But Nick was a relatively young man, certainly far younger than I.  So moving him sideways wasn’t just meant as ‘time to retire’.  And there was more.


Martin Hillman, the husband of Pam Hillman at Renault Croydon, was Contract Hire & Leasing Manager at Renault HQ.  Keeping the big leasing companies onside was a significant role and, just like Nick Thame, Martin had performed his job for years.    He knew everyone in the leasing business and everyone knew him.  And now he too was being sidelined.  Instead of looking after the big leasing companies that bought Renaults in their thousands, Martin would be working out how much it cost to run a Renault motor car.  Though I couldn’t be sure, I guessed that this was Renault’s way of getting back at Pam Hillman for whatever she had done to bring down the house of cards.


Renault couldn’t do much to Pam as she knew where too many bodies were buried in the game of account abuse.  But perhaps sidelining her husband was a way of sending a message to them both; ‘Your husband’s career is paying the price of what you’ve done Mrs Hillman.’ perhaps was the message.  Nasty.  But smart.  And it also showed again just how ruthless Renault could be, and what I could expect from them.


Now, when I made the decision to stop using the lawyers I realised that as soon as Renault and its solicitor Paul Kite of IBB Law found out about it I would be fair game for whatever the legal brains could concoct to pull apart my version of events.


No doubt in the course of the pre-trial proceedings, in the knowledge that I would be representing myself, I could expect Renault and its lawyers would be doing everything they possibly could to wind me up and flush out any possible weaknesses in my defence case before we got to Trial.


And this meant that, just like in my tax investigation days, and just like my run-in with Dopplegänger and his acolytes at the accounting firm, I had to do something first to destabilise things, to make Renault, its lawyers and its witnesses understand that this wasn’t going to be the cake walk they all undoubtedly thought it would be.


I had to do something that undermined and destabilised each aspect of the case.  I had to do it to Renault, to their Claim, to their lawyers and to their witnesses.  Well, maybe I had just the thing to start the ball rolling.

Remember the meeting at Renault Croydon when Renault's Steve Wilson had told me that a colleague had accessed the web site I used to offer cars to my broker customers?  Steve said that he had not personally visited the web site.


Bollocks. That was just too improbable.  Renault send Steve Wilson into a meeting with me to make an allegation of serious impropriety when he could neither back up what was alleged, nor deal with any challenges, unless he had actual, personal knowledge of what was on the web site?  Yeah, right.



I reckoned that what Steve Wilson had said about not having visited the site himself was a load of old codswallop.  You just don’t walk into a meeting like that so unprepared (alright, so I had done it at Renault HQ, but that was different, honest!).


You see, what if I had just denied everything to Steve?  Whoever challenged me about the web site had to have visited the site to be briefed on what was there so they could pick at whatever I said and dig for more detail.


Just one slight problem with that.  I hadn’t given Renault or Steve Wilson access to the web site and accessing a password protected computer using a false ID and someone else’s password is illegal.  Section 1, Computer Misuse Act, 1990.  Punishable upon conviction by a £5,000 fine or up to 6 months in jail.  Ouch.  And Steve Wilson just did not strike me as the kind of guy who would take to prison food.


So I started my campaign of upsetting applecarts by writing to Simon Tippett, the lawyer Company Secretary at Renault who had been at that first meeting at their HQ.  In the letter I set out quite matter-of-factly just exactly what I had been told by Steve Wilson about the web site hacking incident and what I’d done to identify who had accessed the web site.  Then I asked Simon Tippett for a proper explanation from Renault of what had happened.


Oh, and I also emphasised that, failing a credible response, I would report the matter to the Police.  And for good measure I sent pretty much the same letter to Steve Wilson as well, demanding that he too provide his version of events.  Game on.


Now during the period between the first threatening letter from IBB Law and the actual filing of Renault’s Claim into Court, Renault, or rather Paul Kite of IBB Law, had been pretty quick on the draw as far as responding to letters on the case.  With just the one exception that I have mentioned before, replies usually took a few days or not much more, so I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait.  Sure enough, after a week a reply arrived, not from Simon Tippett at Renault but from IBB Law.  And I could not believe the contents.


Instead of the usual rejections and deflections, weasel words and legalese I had come to expect from them, the letter from IBB Law contained a straight out admission of what had taken place.  They admitted that ‘the authorised user’ of the ID and password, as IBB Law put it without actually naming Sanj Chadha, had passed the user ID and password to an employee of Renault.


Without naming names, IBB Law said that Renault staff had accessed the web site on a number of occasions.  IBB Law of course claimed that the employees had done so in the belief that a fraud had been committed by me.  Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?  But then IBB Law did something astonishing.  They invited further investigation by asking that any Investigating Officer from the Police be referred directly to them.  Why on earth do that?  Unless of course they wanted to act as a buffer between the Police and the miscreants in order to protect them.


Wow.  In the postal version of ‘Battleships’ that had begun it looked like I had scored a direct hit with my first shot.


But IBB Law had, understandably, accused me directly of using the issue to deflect attention from the civil case.  Attempting to deflect attention from the civil case?  Who? Me?  With my reputation?  Which, incidentally, IBB Law didn’t know about – that is, my days as a tax investigator had always been kept a secret from them.  


Now, I knew I would be made to pay for it soon in some way, but I couldn’t resist turning the screw a little bit more, so I replied to the letter.


First of all I thanked IBB Law for being so helpful in their response.  Nothing wrong with making an opponent feel that they have given away more than they needed to, so that they can then kick themselves for doing so.  Then I demanded the actual names of the employees involved and the name of whoever gave Renault the user ID and password.


Next I asked if the employees were acting on the specific instructions of Renault or with its sanction and, if Renault had actually sanctioned the computer hacking, I wanted the names of the company officers responsible.


Then I reminded IBB Law that, at the time that Renault’s employees had accessed the web site, absolutely no allegations of fraud had been made against me.  And I also reminded them that, in fact, at the subsequent meeting at Renault’s HQ in May 2006, Simon Tippett had said that Renault was still examining the matter on the basis that it was either a failure of procedures or a simple mistaken understanding.  No mention had been made at that meeting of any allegation of fraud.  Yet this meeting took place a whole month after Renault’s staff had accessed the web site when they were, according to IBB Law, allegedly investigating a suspected fraud.  Something of a contradiction.  Get out of that one.


Finally, as regards referring the Police Investigating Officer direct to IBB Law, I gave one more turn of the screw.  I asked if I should refer the Investigating Office to IBB Law just in respect of enquiries concerning Renault’s part in the proceedings or if I should do so as well for each one of its employees who was involved in the hacking and anyone who authorised or sanctioned it.  In other words, I sent a message loud and clear that this was going to get personal, not just corporate responsibility, but individual guilt, just like their strategy for the Court case.  What’s sauce for the goose, after all!


The reply from IBB Law was bloody quick and pretty terse.  No names, no pack drill, nobody authorised no one to do nuffink and tell the Old Bill to only call us, no matter whose collar they want to feel.


Well, they actually put it a bit posher than that, but the meaning of their very short reply was pretty much the same.  Ah well, I’d had my fun for the moment.  The criminal investigation would have to wait until after the civil case.  I couldn’t afford the distraction of the two cases going on simultaneously.  I needed to apply all of my sadly limited resources to fighting the civil action.


Dividing my time between the civil action against me and a criminal case against Renault and/or its employees would have required me to take my eyes too far off the ball to be justifiable.  And in any case, having settled into the frame of mind to upset applecarts, now the real shenanigans could begin.  And as a bonus, now Renault knew just how down and dirty I was prepared to get in order to beat their fit-up.  Oh yes.

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