How it came about that St Edward’s Press published ‘Brussels Laid Bare’
A note by Hugh Williams
I believe it might be helpful, and perhaps interesting, if I explain how it came about that this very small publishing house found itself publishing what is unquestionably an important book.
Before I retired at the end of December 2014, my main occupation was not, in fact, publishing at all, but accountancy. For over forty years I was the senior partner of the accounting firm that I founded. It was in this capacity that I first became aware of the existence of the newly-appointed EU’s chief accountant, Marta Andreasen, when her name started featuring in the Press in 2002.
To my horror, I learnt that she was being punished for refusing to sign off the EU’s 2001 accounts, which had been prepared by her predecessor, and which she could see contained a glaring error (in fact probably not an error but a fraud) of €200 million.
Her initial punishment for refusing to gloss over this matter was to be suspended. Her criticisms of the accounts were then investigated for two years; they were found to be fully justified but, instead of being rewarded and thanked for her integrity and courage, she was sacked.
I was appalled at this injustice, both as an accountant (naturally) and also as a Christian. I could hardly believe my eyes as her brave fight for honesty and justice was being so ruthlessly and deliberately disregarded by the EU.
Nonetheless I was working away on my clients’ accounts in Plymouth and these events were taking place in far off Brussels, and there was little I could do about her plight – or so I thought at the time (2002).
In 2003 the magazine, Accountancy Age, ran a poll amongst its readers to choose the “Accounting Personality of the Year”. Every year this magazine runs an awards evening in London – a huge event attended by over 1,000 accountants and their guests. I am pleased to report that Marta won the award for that category in 2003, I being one of those who voted for her.
The following year, 2004, my business partner and I decided to enter our practice for an Accountancy Age award (for “Best Small UK Accountancy Firm”). We were nominated, which meant that we were in the top three; and we were therefore invited to attend the annual Accountancy Age jamboree. When leafing through the paperwork in advance of this event, I was intrigued to see that, as a past award winner, Marta was one of the judges. This really got me interested, to the extent that I said to my wife, Alice, that I would far rather meet Marta and shake her hand, than win a national award.
At the end of the awards ceremony (and, no, we didn’t win the award) I advanced from the mêlée to where I thought I would find her, and, lo and behold, there she was sitting at the front all on her own. I introduced myself, and explained that I was there because our firm had been nominated for an award. Her first words to me were “Ah, Mr Williams, I recall your nomination and I would like you to know that, while you didn’t win, I voted for you.” A good start as far as I was concerned!
After that brief meeting, we remained in email contact. A little later, an accounting friend of mine, Andrew Hamilton, who, at that time, ran his own practice in Edinburgh, wanted to put on a talk about EU accounting for his clients in 2006, and, knowing that I knew Marta’s contact details, asked me if I would introduce him to her, which I gladly did. Andrew also invited me to this event, where I not only met Lord Pearson of Rannoch (another speaker) but was also privileged to give the vote of thanks at the end. And, with this meeting leading to a second similar one later that year, one way and another, Marta and I gradually became firm friends.
This led to my seeing her on quite a few occasions, and, during one, I suggested to her, as indeed had others, that she ought to write her story of what happened while she was in Brussels.
She started writing in 2007 and in the spring of 2008 she gave me the manuscript to read. I was not disappointed – even in that early form, it was a devastating tale, a real jaw-dropper. But it was also clear that while Marta’s English is excellent, her first language (of many) is Spanish, and that if the book was to have the appeal it deserved, we would need to get a professional wordsmith to do some work on the script.
Marta and I agreed that I should hand the manuscript to Lord Pearson who knew of a retired journalist and the result, as you will see, was a really first-rate page-turner. The story now reads like the thriller it was in real life.
The next step was to find a publisher. In November 2008 one was duly found, and Marta was told by him that copies of the book would be ready in February 2009.
But the thriller that is Marta’s EU story had further to go! In February 2009 I duly telephoned her to ask if the book was ready, and where I could buy copies, only to be told by a crest-fallen author that the publishers had decided not to proceed with the book after all.
Thus it came about that I now stepped forward and offered to publish her story, but not without hesitation on my part.
St Edward’s Press was, and still is, a very small publisher, with, at that stage, just two publications to its name. And although it certainly knew how to produce a book, it could not claim any significant marketing power or expertise, and on the face of it was therefore not an ideal option for Marta. But mine was the only offer open to her and she very graciously accepted it.
The book was finally launched on 11 May 2009, at a party at St Stephen’s Club in Westminster. I owe a huge debt to Lord Pearson who very generously hosted that party (and who had also paid the journalist to prepare the book for publication) and also to many others who helped me get this important book into print, but who, for reasons that readers of the book will easily understand, have asked me not to mention by name.
One person who I can name is Austen Mitchell MP. Shortly after this book was launched, I saw him on the BBC Parliamentary channel brandishing a copy in the Chamber of the House of Commons, telling all Treasury Ministers that they really should read it. To witness that gave me a real thrill, as you can imagine.
As to Marta herself, well, to find that I, an obscure accountant from the depths of Devon (where I then lived), have published this devastating story about the most famous accountant in the world, and one who is also an exceptionally brave and diligently honest woman, is a privilege beyond my wildest imaginings.
Although this book describes the devious goings-on in Brussels’ accounting in the first half of the “noughties”, with the EU’s auditors still reporting that the EU is still unable to “overcome the extraordinary lack of controls in administering EU’s funds” (to quote Jackie Williams in Eurofacts October 2016), this book is as relevant a read as ever – as its continuing sales indicate.
And, as if to further demonstrate the continuing interest in this story, I am told (October 2016) that certain people are interested in turning this story into a TV series. Mind you, I’ll believe that only when I find myself watching it.
Hugh Williams, Autumn 2009 (Revised Autumn 2016)