SHAREHOLDERS of Darlington Farmers Auction Mart have voted to reject last year’s accounts in the wake of allegations of financial irregularities.

A stormy Annual General Meeting was held last week, when more than 200 shareholders grilled directors about the accounts and asked them about alleged bonus payments to the managing director Andrew Armstrong and financial director Richard Heseltine.

Proxy votes have now been counted and The Northern Echo has learnt that shareholders rejected the 2018 accounts by a small majority.

There are expected to be further developments today.

Last Friday Mr Armstrong was suspended from his position at the mart for unknown reasons.

And The Northern Echo has learnt that mart chairman Tony Ward has given a witness statement to aid police.

Durham Police are investigating the allegations of financial irregularities after claims made by a group of dissident shareholders, but have confirmed the inquiry is in the very early stages, and it is not yet known if there is even a crime to investigate.

Shareholders are said to be concerned about payments which have been made to Mr Armstrong and Mr Heseltine, but directors said last week the payments had been bonus payments which had been authorised legally.

Mr Ward agreed to an in-depth analysis of the mart’s accounts following pressure from shareholders at the AGM.

The forensic, independent analysis of the accounts is expected to begin once the police investigation is concluded.

A group of disgruntled shareholders sent a letter out to all 340 of the company’s shareholders earlier this month outlining allegations that 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 company is in the process of building a new auction mart at Humbleton Farm, Burtree, on the edge of Darlington.

It has been trying to move out of its unsuitable Clifton Road site in the town centre to a more appropriate out-of-town site for decades.

The latest developments are not thought to affect the building of the new mart and the move to Burtree, which is expected to go ahead as planned.

Directors outlined the latest on the building works to shareholders at the AGM last week.

The foundations and steel frames are up on the buildings and roundabout works, along with traffic calming measures on the A68, are underway.