30 October 2012 by Catherine Baksi
ALS founder blames ‘intimidation’ for court interpreter debacle
The founder of the company at the centre of the court interpreting debacle today blamed ‘intimidation’ and ‘quite horrendous’ threats by interpreters boycotting his company for its failure to meet targets.
Gavin Wheeldon, former chief executive of Applied Language Solutions, told the House of Commons justice committee that ‘there was an awful lot of intimidation around this contract – strong encouragement not to do the work [for Applied]… There's been interpreters who've been spat on, been threatened - the things that went on were quite horrendous.’
Wheeldon (pictured far left) said resistance to the new arrangements, coupled with a lack of management information from the Ministry of Justice, led to a performance that was ‘far from satisfactory’.
Organisations representing interpreters strongly denied the claim. Madeleine Lee, director of the Professional Interpreters Alliance, said: 'We are categorically unaware of such incidents, and will ask the justice committee to request evidence to support them.' Geoffrey Buckingham, chairman of the Association of Police and Court Interpreters, said he had ‘never seen any evidence’ of threats. ‘Obviously we would strongly condemn any such behaviour.’
During the hearing Wheeldon denied that Applied had misled the MoJ over its capacity to fulfil the contract or that it had failed to disclose problems in the assessment or validation of interpreters. Wheeldon said that his company had put together ‘detailed project plans’ but a lack of information from the MoJ meant it could only make ‘assumptions’ about demand for services.
Wheeldon pocketed the lion’s share of £6m when he sold Applied, to the services giant Capita a few weeks after winning the MoJ contract in August 2011. The company is now called Capita Translation and Interpreting.
Earlier this week, Capita’s chief operating officer Andy Parker told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that the company was ‘in material breach’ at the start of the contract and was issued with a formal notice to improve by the MoJ.
He said he did not believe that the company is still in material breach, but the committee heard that the service is being delivered in breach of contractual obligations in the absence of mechanisms to assess and monitor the standard of interpreters used.
Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said was is ‘a bit scary’ that six months into the contract there is no way of making sure that the quality of interpreters is appropriate to ensure the proper administration of justice.