My moments of light relief

Jun 01, 2018
In my long career as a Chartered Accountant, some clients and engagements have brought welcome, if unintentional, light relief.

It is my good fortune to have had a long career as a Chartered Accountant. Along the way, there were good and bad experiences. Awkward clients or difficult situations often meant struggling to find the best route or advice in the given circumstances. Some, at least, brought light relief – usually unintentionally.

All of the following situations occurred in less contentious times and are now long past.

Without prejudice

A lesson that calm professional advice is not always the answer. A rough and tumble builder client received a four-page diatribe from a solicitor, alleging great wrongs arising from construction work carried out by the builder. Each page was heavily marked ‘without prejudice’. The builder declined my advice to engage his own solicitor. Instead, he hand-wrote in large letters on each page “F*** off – without prejudice” and posted the letter back to the solicitor. There isn’t space in this article to explain the outcome, except that the situation deteriorated into a farce and the builder won.

Admitting your gilt

Early in my career, I was appointed as a receiver to a large pig farm near the border with Northern Ireland. I knew nothing about pig farms but the cockiness of youth carried me through. A potential company buyer was located in England. Prior to showing them around, I warned the foreman – a witty Cavan character – to say nothing about smuggling. There was no doubt that smuggling had contributed to the receivership.

The buyers were walking around and together, we were looking at this enormous sow in her pen. I had no idea that a sow could be so large. One of the buyers remarked on her size, to which the foreman responded, “Yes, a top lady. And only 10,000 miles on the clock”. Worse, he added that smuggling gave pigs variety and made for a better pig. They bought the farm anyway.

‘A tax’ isn’t always the best form of defence

An individual was a beneficiary of the artist’s income tax exemption. Revenue disputed that a sideline he had in writing advertising slogans and jingles also qualified for the relief. We all ended up before the Appeal Commissioners. The client was unpleasant, if not obnoxious, to anybody he considered unworthy of life, such as traffic wardens and tax inspectors. At the appeal, on hearing the Inspector’s evidence as to receiving abusive phone-calls, the client assaulted the Inspector, overturning a table in the process. The police were called and the hearing was adjourned.

Feathers were subsequently smoothed with considerable difficulty, including the non-pursuit of charges, and the matter settled. In the letter acknowledging the settlement, the Inspector wrote “It is the firm view of the Revenue Commissioners that all future matters involving your client should be dealt with by correspondence”.

A sanity test

A wealthy will, of which I was a joint executor, was disputed in court as to the sanity of the late testator. Among other diversions, of which there were many, the latter had gone into a well-known hotel near his home looking for a drink while in his pyjamas. A consultant psychiatrist, cross-examined by a senior counsel, was eventually pressed for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer as to whether he could define insanity. The psychiatrist replied “no”, to the counsel’s delight, then added “but I think we all know insanity when we see it”. The case was settled.

The inner circle

In the 1970s, I was regularly involved with a merchant bank in London. They were simpler days and corporate governance was a long way off. A junior secretary in the bank had a brother in the racing world who provided her with tips for an upcoming race meeting. The secretary, in writing down the tips from her brother, used what she thought was scrap paper but which was actually an appendix to an important document that was being drafted regarding a secret takeover bid.

Another secretary thought the names of the horses were a secret code regarding the takeover and added them to the appendix without any explanation. Nobody noticed.
A bewildering row, with confusion all round, ensued with the regulatory Takeover & Merger Panel demanding to know the identities behind ‘Golden Rhapsody’, ‘Two Mile Joe’ and others.  As well, the self-important and highly remunerated lawyers, bankers and accountants, each thought the others knew and were furious at being excluded from the inner circle.
Des Peelo is author of The Valuation of Businesses and Shares, published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.