4 March 2012
Robin Henry and Jon Ungoed-Thomas
Dragon reject ‘sparks court chaos’
An interpreting company run by a man whose investment pitch was rejected on the television show Dragons’ Den has been accused of bringing chaos to court proceedings.
Gavin Wheeldon, founder of Applied Language Solutions (ALS), an interpreting and translation firm, won a £300m contract last year to provide interpreters to the court service.
The firm claims to have 3,000 interpreters and translators available for work, but since launching the new service last month it has been unable to provide staff for many court hearings.
Last week a court in Ipswich resorted to Google Translate, an online translation system, for proceedings against a Lithuanian charged with shoplifting.
“We hope he understood, but as none of us spoke Lithuanian, we can’t be sure,” one lawyer said.
Wheeldon, 35, appeared on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den in 2007 to appeal for financial backing. He was told that his valuation of the company was wrong, but he turned his venture into a successful business.
He sold out to Capita, the outsourcing giant, after winning the deal with the courts service, but he remained as chief executive.
Geoffrey Buckingham, chairman of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI), said that the Ministry of Justice had been warned before the contract was awarded that it would not work.
“We told the MoJ countless times that this would lead to chaos, but they ignored us,” he said.
The APCI said it has found evidence that at least 50 interpreters on ALS’s books do not in fact wish to work for the company.
Nina Sampson, 38, a Russian interpreter said: “I asked to be taken of their books, as I didn’t want to be associated with the company.
When I heard they were listing people who weren’t their interpreters, I thought I would try logging back in to see if they still had me on there and they did. It makes it look like they have more professionals willing to work for them than there actually are.”
A spokeswoman for ALS said it removed interpreters immediately when they asked to be taken off its books. “We have implemented a number of improvements in the last two weeks,” she added.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “There have been an unacceptable number of problems in the first weeks of the contract and we have asked the contractor to take urgent steps to improve performance.”