ALMOST the entire board of directors of Darlington Farmers Auction Mart resigned at the weekend in the wake of a tumultuous month which has seen the managing director suspended from his role as head auctioneer.

However Andrew Armstrong is one of only two of the original directors, along with financial director Richard Heseltine, who remain on the board.

New chairman Paul Allison confirmed yesterday that Mr Armstrong was the subject of an internal investigation by the company which should be complete by the end of the month.

He was suspended from his job at the end of July.

Durham Police are investigating claims of 'financial irregularities' at the mart after rebel shareholders made allegations about payments made to Mr Armstrong and financial director Mr Heseltine.

The Northern Echo:

The current auction mart site on Clifton Road in Darlington

The mart said previously that the payments were made legally.

In a statement, the company said it had asked Mr Armstrong to 'step aside from his duties temporarily while we investigate some of the concerns which have come to light.

"This does not imply that we have decided that Andrew is guilty of any misconduct, but in order for a full, fair and transparent investigation... it is in both Andrew's own interests and those of the mart that he steps aside and gives us the space to undertake the investigation swiftly and professionally."

The Northern Echo understands that directors James Beadle, John Grieves, Eric Blacklock and Trevor Johnson stood down at the weekend, but the company would only say they had all decided to retire.

Mr Allison would not be drawn on whether the new board would honour a pledge given to shareholders at a stormy meeting last month, for a forensic analysis of the company's accounts.

A statement from the company spoke about the 'exciting stage' of development and the new mart site being built at Humbleton, Burtree, on the outskirts of Darlington.

It added: "Several directors have taken the decision to retire with the purpose of creating the vacancies that are being filled by new directors.

"The company regrets, therefore, to announce the retirement of several directors, including the chairman of the board Mr Tony Ward. Tony has overseen the development at Humbleton from an early stage, but he now feels it is time to hand over the reins. Also retiring at this time are Messrs James Beadle, John Grieves, Eric Blacklock and Trevor Johnson, who between them, have given many years of service on the Board of Directors.

"The company has made incredible progress on their watch and they leave the company in very good shape, with a fantastic workforce, strong finances, and the Humbleton building project running weeks ahead of schedule."

Mr Allison, a Weardale beef and sheep farmer, has 25 years' experience as a managing director in different sectors.

He will be helping with some of Mr Armstrong's responsibilities as director, while Scott Ferrie has been appointed as acting mart manager.