AN in-depth analysis of the accounts of Darlington Farmers Auction Mart (DFAM) will go ahead after pressure from shareholders at the company’s AGM this week, The Northern Echo has learned.

Police are looking into allegations of financial irregularities at the mart after a complaint from a dissident group of shareholders last month, which is understood to relate to alleged bonus payments made to managing director Andy Armstrong and financial director Richard Heseltine.

An AGM held at Blackwell Grange Hotel on Tuesday saw about 200 shareholders turn up to quiz directors about the company accounts.

One source described the mood among shareholders as "angry" after Mr Heseltine declined to answer questions over the payments.

The source said the directors had lawyers at the meeting who were advising them on whether they were able to answer certain questions, or not.

DFAM declined to give an on-the-record comment regarding the meeting to The Northern Echo when asked last night, but said as guidance that directors were unable to answer any questions connected with the ongoing police investigation.

However, chairman Tony Ward is understood to have agreed to a forensic, independent analysis of the company’s accounts, once the police investigation has concluded.

This was something the directors had ruled out last week.

Directors also gave a presentation on the latest details of a new out-of-town cattle mart which is being built at Humbleton Farm, near Burtree on the edge of Darlington, and which will replace the impractical town centre mart on Clifton Road.

Durham Constabulary has said its inquiries were in their “very early stages” and it had not been established whether the allegations were criminal in nature or not.

A group of disgruntled shareholders sent a letter out to all 340 of the company’s shareholders earlier this month outlining allegations that unauthorised payments totalling £380,000 were made to Mr Armstrong and Mr Heseltine via a company they had set up named Parking Only Limited. However, the board of directors then sent their own letter to shareholders saying those payments were fully authorised by the board and were for their professional services in achieving funding for the new mart.

The letter said: “Contrary to the accusations recently circulated, remuneration for the professional services delivered by Andrew and Richard to the company for successfully achieving funding was validly approved by the board of directors in accordance with the company’s articles and company law. It was based, and paid, only on the company achieving project success and at a level lower than the payments made previously to unsuccessful external advisers.”

They said lawyers had confirmed the transactions were within company law.