Category Archives: Westminster

HBOS Reading – slow progress

We spent 4 years being defrauded by HBOS employees and associates and a further 10 years trying to expose what the Bank did to our and others’ businesses. For the first three of the ten years it was pretty much the case no one wanted to know and many people, including HBOS executives, were keen to portray my husband Paul and I either as nut cases (what do you mean bankers have committed fraud?) or as whinging business owners who didn’t want to repay their loans. Of course they also repeatedly put us through eviction hearings in their attempts to silence us but that didn’t work out either.

Which is why we have spent years gathering indisputable evidence of the fraud. As a consequence of a collective refusal by bankers and the authorities to believe what we were saying, even when we produced the evidence to support our allegations including in the many Court hearings, we are very aware who knew what and who was complicit in a massive cover up to hide the fraud, a cover up that goes all the way to the top of the Bank.

Nevertheless we did eventually, with the help of many other victims and with the hard work of Thames Valley Police, see bankers and their chums arrested, prosecuted and jailed. That process took over six years from the start of the police investigation. It wouldn’t have taken that long had the Bank been as co-operative as they like to say they were.

Despite the best efforts of many for it not to happen, Lynden Scourfield and Mark Dobson, both senior HBOS bankers, and David Mills, owner of Quayside Corporate Services and his team (including his wife), have gone to jail for a total of 47 years between them. So it is fair to say we and others have been vindicated and finally, albeit kicking and screaming, Lloyds Banking Group did agree to compensate all those defrauded.

It’s now five months since the criminal trial finished and eleven months since Lynden Scourfield (and therefore the Bank) pleaded guilty to various fraudulent scenarios. Despite statements, press releases and comments from the CEO of Lloyds Banking Group and despite a letter to Paul and I from Lord Blackwell saying he hoped that how the Bank would deal with this would restore trust in the Bank, only one person (according to the Bank) has been compensated and a further six (according to the Bank) have received offers.

I have no idea who these people are? No one I have spoken to – I’ve been speaking to victims of HBOS Reading since mid-2007 and the list of names is quite comprehensive – none of them have been compensated.

A representative of the Bank has been quoted in various newspapers saying the Bank are disappointed the compensation process is taking so long because they had a deadline of 30th June 2017. The Bank say the cause of the delay is because victims want more time to present their information. Or to put it another way, the problem is the victims!!!

Victims I have spoken to are also disappointed. They are disappointed the Bank’s chosen method of resolution is via a ‘review’ scheme that seems to be remarkably similar to the failed IRHP scheme or RBS GRG failed compensation scheme. The person running the Lloyds Banking Group ‘independent’ review is Professor Griggs, who I don’t doubt is an intelligent and honourable man. However, he is also someone who has done consultancy work for Lloyds Banking Group and he has been a director of a company where one of the main shareholders was connected to David Mills of Quayside Corporate Services, who was sent to jail for 15 years for his role in the fraud and corruption.

Then there is the way the review is being run. A member of SME Alliance who has met with Professor Griggs, has told us (and we are grateful for the information):

  • Neither the Bank nor Professor Griggs will volunteer any information about the methodology behind the review. Representatives of the Bank have said they cannot comment because Professor Griggs devised the methodology. Professor Griggs has said he cannot give any comment or information because the Bank devised the methodology.
  • A victim who chooses to enter the review process can either fill in the questionnaire Professor Griggs has prepared or they can send their information in an alternative format. Once the information has been received, it will be assessed by a panel and they will make a non-negotiable offer in approximately four weeks. Victims will not know who is on the panel and if they don’t find the offer satisfactory, they can of course choose to litigate (as if the majority of the victims can afford to litigate!).
  • The Bank will pay reasonable legal costs as part of the review but that is limited to a payment for fees totalling 20 hours. I can’t speak for other victims but having met many of them and researched the circumstances behind their cases, I’m not sure it’s fair or reasonable to suggest any victim can condense 10, 12, 14 years of their lives into a 20 hour explanation that will allow their advisers or their legal representatives to present a fully comprehensive presentation of their case.

I’m not sure if the Bank consider they should make additional payments for forensic accountants. I do think they should cover this cost because, let’s face it, some people may find it difficult to calculate losses going back more than 10 years. Additionally, I wonder how many hours the Bank’s lawyers have spent on each victim’s case? I’m guessing it’s far more than 20 hours per case, which hardly seems equitable. For example, Paul and I are not in the review but Professor Griggs does seem to know a lot about our case and it would take far more than 20 hours to go through the copious correspondence between us and HBOS/LBG/ Dentons/Walker Morris and others over the last 10 years. And I wonder what the hourly rate is for the Bank’s lawyers? I know how much one day of fees for Denton Wilde Sapte (now Dentons) costs because I apparently paid a fortune for a senior solicitor representing the Bank’s Board, to attend 6 of our 22 eviction hearings. Will the Bank pay such exorbitant fees to the victim’s advisers? I think not and I am now aware the Bank are challenging the adviser’s fees.

I wonder what will happen if the Bank, having dragged this whole sorry affair out for so long, decide they won’t pay the costs for the victim’s advisers? In theory either the victims themselves will have to pay (so goodbye to the recent ex-gratia payments) or the advisers will just have to stop working.

Conclusion (of the review). Professor Griggs, who may be a very nice man, is not the obvious choice as an ‘independent reviewer” as he has worked for the Bank and had a connection with David Mills through a Company of which he was an Officer. And let’s not forget any money Mills invested in shares or any shares he received as remuneration, came from tainted money or proceeds of crime.

There is absolutely no transparency regarding the review’s methodology – you cannot know how the Professor or anyone else plans to assess your life. If you do enter the review you will not know who the faceless panel are who assess your compensation but you do know their word is final – there is no appeal, debate or discussion. Take it – or leave it and find mega bucks to take the Bank to Court.

Paul and I are not part of the review but I don’t think we are the two people mentioned in the press last week because those people are going down the litigation route. As I know victims who are going down that route and as we are also not in the review, I think someone in the Bank’s press office was slightly confused when they said only two people weren’t participating in the review. Not least because I know of others who, like us, have agreed with the Bank we do not have to take part in it.

Then there’s the number of victims. I’ve been looking at the details of our investigation, which was by no means comprehensive but I don’t understand where the figure of 67 comes from? I can only assume the list doesn’t include shareholders or creditors. I would have thought HMRC would have complained bitterly about that as they are a multiple creditor – not to mention many local Councils.

The biggest disappointment for me (other than the long drawn out time scales, the lack of transparency and the bizarre pretence victims would find the review process acceptable) is the fact this whole situation has been premised on a lie.

I’m not going to go into detail on why I know this is a fact and a huge problem. However, I would just point out to Lloyds Banking Group that, had they done what Lord Blackwell told Paul and I the Bank would do and if they had swiftly, appropriately and generously compensated the victims (Lord B didn’t use the word generously but I’m throwing it into the mix because I believe that’s what he meant), there would have been no delay in compensation and there would not have been endless media articles about Lloyds Banking Group’s extremely disappointing conduct and lack of integrity.

Sorting out this shameful episode was/is not rocket science. All the victims have advisers or legal representation or can get it (there’s no shortage of lawyers offering to help victims). If the Bank had put forward 11 of their best advisers and given them 6 cases each and if the Bank’s advisers had liaised directly with the victim’s representatives, I’m guessing the whole process would have been over and done within a matter of 6 to 10 weeks. I fail to understand why that option wasn’t considered? Why does it have to be so tortuous?

To be clear Lord Blackwell, Mr Horta-Osorio and Mr Colombas, what the victims want is their lives back or as much as we can get back. That won’t happen until they have compensation and closure. I’m guessing the way things are going, the Bank’s major shareholders would also like to see some closure on HBOS Reading before more damaging information about Lloyds is exposed in the press.

It is possible much of what is happening now is designed to wear victims down so that if and when offers of compensation come, the victims will accept anything because they are just tired of fighting. That and the fact many victims are no longer spring chickens and don’t have the time for another prolonged battle. Worse still – some have cancer or other serious conditions.

Of course I can’t prove that theory (it’s not as easy as proving the fraud) but 10 years of dealing with the senior management of Lloyds Banking Group including Sir Win Bischoff, Eric Daniels, Harry Baines, Philip Grant, Antonio Horta-Osorio, Juan Colombas and, more recently, Lord Blackwell, has not instilled any confidence and even if I would like to believe what Lord Blackwell wrote in his letter, I am now struggling.

Where are we now? I have no idea. I’m not actually sure the Bank’s senior management knows but they probably do and this is all by design. Hopefully we will all know a bit more soon but and in the meantime, 30th June 2017 has come and gone and I can confirm the victims are far more disappointed than the Bank or its representatives.

Personally I am disappointed Lord Blackwell has either been insincere in his letter to Paul and I or, less likely, those in the Bank dealing with this matter are not inclined to listen to the Chairman.

 

Nikki Turner                                                                                                                10th July 2017

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Paragraphs redacted from P&N Turner submission to PCoBS 24/08/12

These are the paragraphs which were redacted by the Commission’s support staff.

  1. The example of bank misconduct we have lived through from 2003 (and continue to do so) is a microcosm of what happened to the whole sector. While we are not professionals in the financial sector, we have been forced to spend the last five years investigating aspects of the banking industry.
  2. Between 2002 – 2007 many SMEs whose accounts were ‘managed’ at HBOS Reading, were forced to use the services of a consultancy firm, Quayside Corporate Services (QS), or have their facilities withdrawn. QS had no affiliation to any trade body for consultants and employed the services of known embezzlers. The cost to the SMEs for these services were between £2000 and £30,000 per month + VAT and expenses. In many cases HBOS insisted QS personnel or its Director became directors of the SMEs and were given full fiduciary control.
  3. Once QS representatives had control of the SMEs, the Bank then ploughed millions of pounds into them. A lot of this money was used to facilitate luxury lifestyles for Bank employees, QS staff and the QS Director. Many of the companies subsequently failed and their assets were sold in pre-pack administration to new companies ultimately owned by The Sandstone Organisation (we are reliably informed as being controlled by the Bank) but run by the Director of QS and/or his staff.
  4. In late 2006 the Bank sent a team from Edinburgh to investigate the loan book at HBOS Reading. In early 2007 the manager responsible for most of the loan book was suspended and subsequently resigned. Between 2002 and 2008, the Bank caused at least 80 SMEs who had the involvement of QS personnel, to go into administration and/or liquidation. We are told the overall losses to the Bank because of events originating at HBOS Reading, runs to billions of pounds.
  5. In April 2007 HBOS closed the business accounts of P&NT who had also been made to use QS and had complained of serious irregularities between 2004-2006. They became suspicious of the Bank’s sudden and aggressive stance towards them and, because any investigation promised by the Bank had not actually been done, they commenced their own investigation into HBOS Reading. By August 2007 they had uncovered evidence of systemic fraud and identified other victims.
  6. In September 2007 P&NT wrote to the entire Board of HBOS setting out their findings to date. The Board rejected the allegations. Also in September 2007, P&NT tried to inform the FSA of the fraud. The FSA did not start any investigation until mid 2009. In November 2007 they reported the fraud to the Cambridge Police who were persuaded by HBOS not to investigate. In May 2010, Thames Valley Police (TVP) and SOCU initiated ‘Operation Hornet’ to investigate what happened at Reading having, by chance, come across the case at a routine meeting at the FSA. They were not asked to look into it.
  7. 9 people have been arrested thus far as a result of Operation Hornet and charges are expected in September 2012 for ‘Corruption’, ‘Money Laundering’ and ‘Conspiracy to Defraud.’ TVP have said HBOS Reading is potentially the biggest banking fraud in British History. The Bank (now Lloyds Banking Group (LBG)) still denies the Turner’s allegations and have refused to compensate any of the SMEs destroyed as victims of the fraud.
  8. HBOS/LBG have tried to evict the Turners from their family home 22 times between 2007 – after they started their investigation – and 2010. Legal costs for a senior Solicitor to attend 5 of the eviction hearings and to deal with matters relating to HBOS Reading, have been paid via a false account opened by the Bank in the name of the Turner’s business, Zenith Cafe Ltd (ZC). Neither the Solicitor nor his Firm were instructed in the eviction proceedings. Approximately £363,000 has been paid from the account to Denton Wilde Sapte (now SNR Denton). By August 2011, circa £250,000 in penalty interest and charges had been added to the account which then showed ZC owed over £600,000. LBG have said this is not a case of false accounting and the Turner’s should never have been sent details of the account. The FSA is still investigating the circumstances of this account over a year on.
  9. The Turner’s have spent the last 5 years investigating the fraud at Reading and other bank frauds. Despite the thousands of factual documents establishing irrefutable evidence of fraud originating at HBOS Reading they have supplied to the police and the FSA, it is a sad fact no authority has had the power or, it seems, the appetite, to make the Bank deal appropriately with the matter. LBG remains in denial and the victims have remained in limbo for years hoping the authorities would act.
  10. A Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards can only be of service to the Nation if the submissions and evidence it receives, is acted upon and not discarded because it comes from those who have individual and profound experiences of what has occurred over the last decade plus.
  11. From 2007, we have contacted (and in most cases submitted a lot of copy documentation to) nearly every agency and authority including the Treasury Select Committee, Constituent victims’ MPs, Government Departments, the Insolvency Service, the FRC, the CIB, HMRC, the senior Executives of the three Banks involved, the Financial Ombudsman Service, the FSA, the SFO, 3 police forces, two Prime Ministers and two Chancellors. Apart from Thames Valley Police (TVP) and specifically the ‘Operation Hornet’ Team, all have failed us with vigour.
  12. For example, we were recently told by a senior enforcement officer at the FSA, the Final Notice Public Censure of BoS, published on 9 March 2012, could have been published two years earlier but for the difficulty the FSA had getting the Bank to agree to it because of FSMA 2000 provisions.
  13. In an e-mail of 9th March 2012, Hector Sants personally advised us the 6 redacted paragraphs in the BoS Public Censure Notice, relate to HBOS Reading. Obviously we have not read the paragraphs and TVP have confirmed they have not read them either, though they were redacted to protect their investigation. The Bank has read them yet it continues to deny any malpractice at HBOS Reading over 5 years after it reported it as a ‘control issue’ to the FSA in ‘early 2007’ (see FSA ‘brief’ to TSC, March 2010).
  14. As a very serious example of how professional standards have reached rock bottom, we would ask the Commission how senior bankers: who are fully aware of the details of the fraud at Reading; who have read the redacted paragraphs in the FSA Public Censure; who have no doubt read Hansard on the debate about HBOS Reading of June 2009; and, most importantly, have clear evidence of how the billions of pounds the Bank lost because of the practices utilised in the HBOS Reading debacle, are able to repeatedly deny the fraud and therefore not compensate but persecute its customers?
  15. We give as an example of this, UKFI which, although it is not a bank per se, it was charged with protecting the interests of the public’s share in two of our biggest banks.
  16. We can confirm that, when we attempted to approach UKFI in 2009 to make them aware of the serious criminal activity in HBOS, which has since resulted in a 2 year major criminal investigation which could potentially damage the reputation of Lloyds Banking Group, we met with a number of hurdles – not least that UKFI has no contact phone number in the public domain.
  17. After a series of e-mails to the PR Company (who were very polite but who would not give us contact details for John Kingman or Glen Moreno) we eventually worked out the e-mail addresses and sent the information, which was in the form of a copy of a letter to Eric Daniels detailing the Reading fraud.
  18. Our letter, which gave explicit detail of fraud and corruption in a then bailed out bank, was ignored.
  19. In 2010 we attempted again to give information to UKFI.
  20. Again it was impossible to make direct contact and we were told (politely) by their PR company, it is because “UKFI do not have time to deal with the general public.”
  21. We are not surprised they have little time for the public as the senior executives of UKFI appear to feature very heavily in any number of bank hospitality situations. We use one of many links as an example: http://www.ukfi.co.uk/images/dynamicImages/Hospitality%20table%20April%2010-%20Mar%2011.pdf
  22. We understand ‘hospitality’ is now accepted as entirely normal in business. However, the millions of people who were severely affected by the events at RBS, HBOS and its parent Lloyds Banking Group, may quite rightly consider the remit of UKFI is to dine well – courtesy of the banking industry – while ensuring they have little or no contact with the shareholders they represent.
  23. We eventually wrote to Sir David Cooksey and Robin Budenberg copying them in on a letter to Sir Win Bischoff. We made the point a Parliamentary Authority Member had advised us to do this.
  24. The reply we got from a UKFI representative informed us: ”We would direct you to note our Framework document which governs the relationship between UKFI and HM Treasury as sole shareholder of investee companies. This document clearly sets out the requirement of the independence of the Boards of the banks; in particular, that UKFI ‘will manage the investments on a commercial basis and will not intervene in day to day management decisions of the investee companies’… UKFI operates as an active and engaged shareholder. We have no regulatory powers, and no power to demand any information from the banks which would not be usually be provided in discharging our duties…As you may have read in our Annual report and accounts, our remit is to manage the investments to create and protect value for the taxpayer and to devise and execute a strategy for the disposing of investments……
  25. UKFI, as part of their remit to protect value for the tax payer, did not feel a massive fraud in a bank the public bailed out, was of any interest to the organisation working on behalf of the public.
  26. Similarly, the BBA told us in 2009 that, if what we were saying was true, it was very worrying but they could do nothing about it.
  27. The FSA, when we first contacted them in 2007, would not give us anything other than a generic e-mail address to send sensitive and personal information of many of the victims of HBOS Reading – which, understandably, we would not and could not do.
  28. The FSA did not get involved in any investigation regarding HBOS until April 2009 and just before the Debate in Westminster on the Reading
  29. We have spoken to many people in the banking profession since we started investigating HBOS Reading and many of them have confirmed to us they work under a regime of fear where missing targets would severely affect the bonus structure which, many of the public do not realise, goes right through the banking system and is not limited to senior executives and traders.
  30. For example and notwithstanding the Reading fraud, HBOS informed us in 2004 they were sending an accountant to review our figures. They did not inform us this would cost us over £1000 for a one hour visit. Neither did they advise us before deducting this amount from our account.
  31. Another example is how the banks’ lawyers charged us £3000 for a standard debenture document while our own lawyers charged £270.
  32. In the case of the Reading victims, all of whom were/are Company directors, the losses to their businesses and to themselves, far exceeds £150,000.
  33. In our case, corporate governance has allowed an internal fraud to progress to a major police operation and FSA investigation because no one at Board level would deal with the matter appropriately, in either HBOS or LBG.. Or so it would seem given the repeated denials for 5 years that anything was wrong.
  34. We have pointed out to the various Boards under various stewardships (Andy Hornby, Eric Daniels, Antonio Horta-Osorio) and on various occasions, the potential damage to the reputation of the Bank because of the scandalous proportions of the HBOS Reading fraud, should have been curtailed and minimised by proper adherence to the Law and sensible damage limitation.
  35. We have no doubt the Bank executives considered it impossible we, as customers, would ever have progressed the investigation of the fraud this far. But that is no excuse for their lack of corporate governance which: a) allowed such a huge fraud to be perpetrated against the Banks’ clients and its shareholders in the first instance and; b) exposed an extreme lack of corporate governance which would put the good name of the Bank at risk and further penalise the victims of an internal bank fraud, by attempting to cover it up rather than exercise proper management, governance and damage limitation.
  36. We advise the Commission, a former HBOS Executive has confirmed to Paul Moore that, in the over £1 billion Reading fraud, only a minority of the Board were “in the know” in 2007 while the others were told HBOS Reading was a minimal problem concerning amounts up to £49M and it had been dealt with.
  37. Clearly this was a case of executive and non executive directors being kept “in the dark” as to the true events concerning the Bank’s risks. Again we would suggest non executives, because of their other commitments, are unlikely to seriously challenge reports from executive directors or committees.
  38. It would be wrong for us to go into any great detail of how we feel the internal audits and controls at HBOS between 2002 and 2007 were a total misrepresentation of the true facts, as we would go into territory that could be harmful to Operation Hornet. However, there is absolutely no doubt that, overall, HBOS and particularly Bank of Scotland had, by 2004/5, become the ‘basket case’ of banking. This is not a term we invented but a term we have heard used by many people in the banking sector.
  39. It could (reasonably) be said we are not the biggest fans of the FSA. However, we can only conclude that, in the case of HBOS, the information given to the FSA with regard to internal audit and control between 2002 and 2007, was, in many instances, a work of fiction – the Arrow Reports.
  40. This was clearly evidenced in 2010 when the FSA sent the TSC a document detailing their version of events originating at Reading and based on a ‘control issue’ reported to the FSA in ‘early 2007’. It was fortunate the TSC copied the ‘brief’ to us so we were able to amend the document with the true facts.
  41. On a specific note and given it does not fall within the remit of Operation Hornet, we would draw to the Commission’s attention the false account HBOS set up in the name of our Company, Zenith Cafe Ltd., to pay the Bank’s legal expenses relating to HBOS Reading. These fees were nothing to do with Zenith.
  42. The account was opened in March 2008 and we were not aware of it until we started to receive interest statements from January 2010 and letters advising a ‘£30 Excess Overdraft fee’ had been added and would we bring the account into line with its facility. In June 2011 and after two requests from the Company’s Accountant, we received all the historical statements which itemised debits and the interest and charges applied. We believe they were sent by a whistleblower and the Bank have since confirmed we were not supposed to have sight of this documentation.
  43. The bank have said this is an ‘internal account’ to keep track of the costs relating to Reading and they never intended to ask us, as Directors, for the money back. We already had letters asking for the money.
  44. Additional to the £372,000 for debits made from the account, predominantly for fees to Denton Wilde Sapte (now SR Denton), the Bank have added approximately £250,000 in penalty fees and interest thus eliminating the possibility this was an internal ‘managers obligation account.’
  45. The account clearly shows a £372,000 debt of the bank as also being a £600,000 debt of our company, so a credit of the Bank. Clearly it is false accounting which we have reported to the FSA and the police.
  46. The FSA, after one year of investigation, say they have not got to the bottom of the matter. We bring it to the Commission’s attention because we do not consider it is at all likely this account is in isolation.
  47. As external whistleblowers, we would warn anyone pondering this route to consider carefully what they are doing before they start. In 2007 when we first uncovered the Reading fraud, we believed it would be quickly remedied for the victims by reporting the matter to the Board of the Bank. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
  48. As noted in para. 13 above, we have, since 2007, contacted every agency and authority possible alerting them first to the fraud and secondly, to the untenable consequences for the victims.
  49. Five years on, the situation remains the same for the victims. The Bank remains in denial despite a two year criminal investigation; we have undergone 22 eviction hearings in 3 years in an attempt by the Bank to silence us and which the Bank paid its additional legal costs via a false account in the name of our company (the actual legal costs were added to our mortgage) and; we continue to live like paupers.
  50. Finally on this aspect, we have personally seen some extraordinary fantasy accounting and conclusions from the Big 4 auditors in the HBOS Reading scenario, including serious breaches of accountancy standards and breaches of the Law. We are not at liberty to evidence these breaches to the Commission at the present time but we certainly will be able to when Operation Hornet is concluded.
  51. In June 2011 we prepared a dossier establishing a ‘time line’ of the conduct of the FSA in relation to the HBOS Reading fraud. This document was copied to the Treasury Select Committee and we would be happy to submit the same to the Commission, if requested. It is a detailed example of the conduct of the FSA in relation to established criminal activity in a bank. Over a year later, nothing has changed for the victims of HBOS Reading and the FSA has taken no enforcement action against the individuals at any level and who enabled the Reading fraud to happen.
  52. At all costs banks will not admit any fault or accept any responsibility even where the evidence clearly promotes a different approach. We cannot calculate how much money HBOS and subsequently LBG have spent defending their position regarding HBOS Reading but almost certainly, the end tariff will cost much more than it would have cost had the Bank dealt appropriately with the matter back in 2007.
  53. We use this question to highlight all we have said in our document and, in order to give the Commission perhaps the most blatant example of just how low professional standards have gone in banking, we use the Farepak debacle as an example.
  54. Our interest in this case dates back some time as the HBOS employees tasked with the Farepak problem, are the same team charged with dealing with the SMEs whose accounts were held at Reading and whose businesses had Quayside Corporate Services imposed upon them.
  55. We have read some of the transcripts of the Farepak trial (May to June 2012). The case against the Directors of EHR was brought by the Secretary of State. It claimed those directors were responsible for 133,000 people on low incomes unwarrantedly losing money they had saved for Christmas vouchers.
  56. What the case actually exposed was how the HBOS team used ‘hard nose tactics’ to block any solution the Directors of EHR proposed in their attempts to save the depositor money and keep Farepak trading.
  57. We don’t intend to go into great detail and we do not believe the Farepak injustice is a closed book.
  58. EHR requested additional funding of £5M in April 2006 to trade the company out of a problem caused by the demise of its main voucher supplier. In its attempts to source this shortfall, which the Bank would not facilitate, EHR was made to spend well over a million in fees to accountancy firms.
  59. HBOS, who refused to ring fence any of the savers’ money already deposited, received a further, circa £18M between April and October 2006 from the Farepak savers. This cashflow was used by the Bank to reduce EHR’s borrowings and allowed the business to carry on trading.
  60. The EHR Directors pursued at least 7 different avenues to secure the funding during this period, none of which were acceptable to the Bank and the Company was put into a pre-pack administration at the beginning of October 2006 causing the savers to lose all their money.
  61. As a PR exercise, HBOS initially put £2M into the ‘Unfairpak’ campaign and more recently they have added an additional £8M. We believe the winding up of the Business will finally cost circa £9M.
  62. Therefore a total of at least £10M has been paid in fees by a business that was looking for £5M additional funding; the whole exercise has cost HBOS itself £10M plus a serious loss of reputation; 133,000 people lost a net total of approximately £25M of the £37M they thought they had saved to ensure their families had a good Christmas plus they suffered all the anxiety caused by this conduct.
  63. A team of 3 or 4 people under the ultimate leadership of Peter Cummings, who was CEO of Bank of Scotland in 2006, brought about this shameful situation. We would make the point; in the transcript, one of the 4 describes his job as being part of the ‘High Risk’ team in 2006.
  64. When we dealt with the same team of people in 2007, their title was ‘Impaired Assets – Structured.’ The difference between High Risk and Impaired Assets is very clear. High Risk may look at resolving a situation by the addition of extra funding. Impaired Assets has a remit which does not include the possibility of any additional funding whatsoever and almost always, unless the clients themselves have a financial resolution, has an insolvency outcome.
  65. The Bank’s position and conduct is laid out very clearly in the transcripts of the case, days 11, 12 and 13. We believe it begs a question of whether HBOS ever intended to find a solvent solution for Farepak or whether the team from HBOS was, in fact, the ‘Impaired Assets’ team who always intended to put Farepak in Administration and simply allowed the directors of EHR to go through the process of finding a resolution in order for the Bank to get in all the savers’ money?
  66. Having met this ‘team’ and having seen how the SMEs associated to HBOS Reading were dealt with by this team, we suggest there was never any intention of saving Farepak. And while we fully appreciate a bank has every right not to extend further credit to a customer (business or individual), we would point out to the Commission that, simultaneous to the Bank’s refusal to assist Farepak with further, minimal funding, it was ploughing tens of millions of pounds into a business with almost no turnover and which had been put under the control of the Bank via its consultants.
  67. In July this year we sent information to a representative of Unfairpak who attended a meeting with Dr. Vince Cable MP after the Farepak trial had concluded and which placed no blame on the Directors of EHR. Our purpose was to evidence the blatant ‘double standards’ the Bank was applying to businesses at the time of the Farepak demise. Following is an extract from our e-mail and the figures are factual:          “..The other thing we think you should know is that contemporaneously to EHR going into liquidation for the lack of £3M to £5M, BoS was ploughing millions of pounds into a company called Corporate Jet Services (CJS). Looking at their accounts and giving a rough calculation, we can see the Bank allowed CJS to increase its borrowings by £19.671 million between April and September 2006 and the turn over for the same period in the cash book was £497,770 of which just over £125,000 was a repayment of VAT from HMRC.
  68. The Bank would say of course, it is down to their discretion how much money they give companies. However, it should be noted the Bank owned all the shares in Corporate Jet Services and despite the tens of millions of pounds they put in to the Company, it went into Administrative Receivership on 26th September 2007 owing the Bank £113M, according to PwC’s Administrator’s Report. Post the appointment of PwC, the Bank allowed the Company to pay £26, 244,708.73 to one subsidiary which was then sold to the now ex directors of the company for £1.00; £2,407,314.31 to another subsidiary that was also sold to the ex Directors for £1.00 and also £333,912.40 to PwC, who had already received £160, 054.84 a month before the Company went down.
  69. In total, the Directors of the Company (one of whom is a main suspect in the Reading case) paid £7.00 and a promise to acquire all the assets of CJS leaving the Bank with a massive debt which, had they taken action in May 2007 when they first brought in PwC to produce a report on the viability of CJS, the amount would have been reduced by at least £6 million.
  70. Additionally, this company had a £800,000 agreed overdraft facility that should have been renewed on 27th November 2003 but wasn’t and by the end of April 2006 the Company had an unauthorised OD of £28.6M according to the accounts for the year ending 31st December 2004 filed at Companies House and which were signed off in June 2006.
  71. Some additional points to be noted from the above comparative scenario between CJS and Farepak. The person dealing with both situations for the Bank, was the same. The PwC person involved in both matters was also the same. The PwC person not only advised the Bank regarding the failed rescue packages in the Farepak debacle, he was also the Bank appointed Administrative Receiver of EHR.
  72. An editorial note concerning the above e-mail extract. It should be noted the sale of the CJS subsidiary Companies to the ex Officers of CJS for £7 and a promise, was completed immediately prior to the Company being placed in Administrative Receivership on 26th September 2007. The first payment stated above as being made by the Bank to one subsidiary Company for £26+M, was made on 27th September 2007 and the payment to a second and different subsidiary also sold on 26th September, was made on 9th October 2007. Both payments post date the appointment of PwC.
  73. We are now into our 9th year since we unwittingly became the victims of the HBOS Reading scandal. Even if we one day get to the end of it and receive the compensation we are undoubtedly due, no one can give us or our families back the 9 years we have lost.
  74. Similarly, no one can give back the Farepak victims’ Christmas of 2006. These are just two scandalous situations out of many caused by bad banking practice. The most worrying thing is – no one has done anything to curtail this sort of behaviour and it continues.

“Ill Founded and Misconceived” versus 47 Years In jail. Updated #HBOS Reading

I am adding this update to the blog I wrote last February and just after Lynden Scourfield and five others were sent to jail. That was over six months ago.

I was fairly optimistic throughout March and April that the Bank were going to do the right thing and swiftly even although I should have realised at our meeting with the Bank in March, the quest for justice and compensation from the Bank was going to be a long haul.  At that meeting the Bank’s representative expected us (Paul and I) to accept the statement “it is a fact that prior to the trial the Bank had no evidence of criminality.” He said this (and repeated it several times) to the people who have been sending evidence of criminality to the senior management of LBG and their lawyers since the merger with HBOS happened. So the statement was clearly a blatant example of “false truth” or whatever the latest fashionable definition is for “a lie” and it was never going to wash with us. You can’t rewrite history just the same as you can’t lie to yourself even if your bosses can insist you lie to others.

The latest hiccups include: the Bank are not (contrary to their reports to the media) prepared to pay the ‘reasonable’ costs for the victims lawyers/advisers unless they give the Bank chapter and verse on what they are doing for their clients. As if??? As if the advisers will tell the Bank the private and confidential details of the work they’re doing with the victims. Then, if the Bank’s faceless panel make an unacceptable offer of compensation and the victim has to litigate, the bank already have all their information supplied by the advisers. Do the Banks lawyers really think we are all that stupid? And of course the more obvious point – if the bank won’t pay the lawyers/advisers for the victims and the victims can’t pay them, the victims could end up with no legal advice vs the Banks magic circle lawyers.

Another hiccup: some victims who didn’t have dealings directly with Scourfield of Dobson but were in any event destroyed by their lieutenants,  acting on Scourfield /Dobson’s orders, have been told by the Bank they are not considered as victims. The criteria is you have to have dealt directly with Scourfield, Dobson or Quayside. But believe me, some of those working for Scourfield really enjoyed their jobs and were every bit as ruthless and criminal as he was – but they didn’t get arrested. Maybe they will one day but in the mean time I hope the Bank stop the absurd pretence that victims of Scourfield/Dobson teams did not suffer.

Some might say optimism is an ill advised trait in this day and age.  Nevertheless I still think Lloyds will ultimately do the right thing – the question is when? They didn’t meet their target of 30th June to compensate the victims and I wonder if we or the media should have asked Mr Horta Osorio whether he actually meant the deadline of 30th June was June 2017 or 2018? But they will have to do the right thing sooner or later because the alternative would cast serious doubt on whether the Bank’s Chairman and CEO are ‘fit and proper people’ to be running a Bank.

At the end of the day, the Bank’s lawyers can plot all they like to delay or decrease the compensation thus increasing their own remuneration. But the blame for prolonging the misery of people who have already suffered unnecessarily for so many years (it was unnecessary because both HBOS and LBG were fully aware of the criminality years ago) will not be laid at the door of the lawyers –  the blame will go to Lord Blackwell and Antonio Horta-Osorio.  I hope their lawyers are not trying to persuade them that won’t happen because that would be another false truth and potentially a very costly one.

24th July 2017

 

What a week!

As many people reading this will know, on Thursday 2nd February the Judge in the HBOS Reading trial sentenced the five delusional Defendants who pleaded not guilty and the one Defendant who did plead guilty, to a total of 47 years in jail. I was in Court for some of the proceedings and I know many people who couldn’t attend will want to know how it went.

Paul and I didn’t get to Court until about 11.45. Partly because we had the BBC at our house by 6.30am to do Breakfast TV, which was quite an odd experience because we generally get interviewed by people who know a lot about the HBOS Reading fraud. So I kind of felt we and Steff McGovern were talking about different stories and I hope we have a chance to go back and explain it to Steff in more detail so we’re on the same page!

By the time we got to Court it was packed. So packed all you could do was stand by the door at the back of the Court. A lot of press were there as well as a lot of the victims and they were doing the mitigation pleas when we arrived. I went in and listened for 20 minutes and then had to leave. I had to leave because one Defendant’s QC was talking about the hardship it would cause his Client’s family should he be incarcerated! Another pointed out his client was over 60 and in ill health!!!

I always think anger is a dish served silently and after reflection but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stay silent or reflective in light of these comments. The families of scores of people including mine, have been devastated for years because of these people. Many of the victims have been serving a prison sentence for years and so have their children. We’ve had businesses trashed, no livelihood, no way forward because this has taken so long to reach a criminal conviction and we’ve been living on the breadline. On top of that our reputations, our credit ratings and our dignity has been smashed (yes Nigel, I pinched that from your excellent piece on BBC News at 10!).

Meanwhile, some of the people in the dock have been living like kings and indulging in every possible luxury (not always the luxuries that are to everyone’s taste) on the back of what they stole from SMEs. I say ‘some people’ because there were various degrees of ability or desire to indulge and these have been reflected in the Judge’s excellent summing up and sentencing.

On the subject of not being sent down because someone is 60 and in ill health – I am now 61, my husband is now 65 and we would consider our health to have been destroyed except for the fact other victims have fared far worse – at least five victims are dead!

I decided not to listen any more and I joined Paul in the corridor. I’ve done my best to keep Paul out of the Court room since September 2016. As many of the SME Alliance members will know, he has a photographic memory and I believe he would have been severely agitated to hear some of the evidence from both sides of the case.

We weren’t sure if the sentences would actually happen in the afternoon but fortunately they did. Again I could only squeeze into the back of the room because it was overcrowded. It was also incredibly hot and I began to wonder if people might start to feint from the heat and stuffiness – and the tension.

All through this trial it has been incredibly difficult to hear what is being said and Thursday last week was no different. People coughing, blowing their noses, turning pages of note pads (I was horribly guilty of that), people shuffling in their chairs and the Judge talking very quietly because of appalling acoustics – it’s been a nightmare. But everyone was doing their best to be quiet and hear what the Judge was saying. I don’t have to repeat what he said because it is documented, has been repeatedly reported on and is on the SME Alliance Public Interest page. But you had to be there or maybe you had to attend the entire trial, to get the impact of the Judge’s speech.

More than the sentences the Defendants’ got, I was grateful for that speech. He really got it – he really knew who these people were. The greedy ones, the stupid ones and the evil ones. Judge Beddoe knew exactly who was who in this trial and what their role was or what their importance was. This was so important. A Judge, any Judge, has to remain impartial throughout a trial and although all the way through the trial Judge Beddoe repeatedly picked up on things others in the Court missed, he was always impartial. But clearly he knew who he was dealing with and his speech before sentencing made that very clear. I and others have noted throughout the trial, Judge Beddoe is an exceptionally intelligent man and we were lucky he took this case. I am pretty sure he, like Paul, has a photographic memory – thank God.

Even in the middle of the chaos all around and with people cheering in the Court at the result, I genuinely felt for the first time that all the hard work Paul and I have put into this for 10 years, has been worth it. Not because these Defendants who, let’s face it, are either damaged, delusional or sad people, have been sent down for so long – in lots of ways I think losing their assets, their reputations and their livelihoods (like their victims) would have been almost as damaging as prison – but because I can now start to believe after all this time, perhaps our justice system can work.

I know all the victims of HBOS Reading will be grateful to the Judge, the Jury (they were brilliant), Brian O’Neil QC (Brilliant) with his team and Thames Valley Police (especially Mick Murphy) and, as you can imagine, it was a fairly emotional moment when the Judge read out 15 years for Mills, 11 years 3 months for Scourfield, 10 years for Bancroft, 4 years 6 months for Dobson and 3 years 6 months for Mrs Mills and Cartwright. I imagine it was even more emotional for them.

It would be wrong to focus on the downside after such a result but sadly there is one. We, the victims, won a battle last Thursday, definitely the biggest one we’ve fought so far – keeping that trial on track and getting the result (Paul and I have had to win 22 court battles over the last ten years to keep our house). But we haven’t won the war. HBOS have known about this fraud since 2006. Lloyds TSB have known about it since at least 2007 while Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) have known about it and certainly at a very high level, after the merger with HBOS in 2009. Peter Cummings, Andy Hornby, Lord Stevenson, Sir Victor Blank, Eric Daniels, Sir Win Bischoff and Antonio Horta Osorio. They have persecuted us and other victims for years in the knowledge every allegation we have made was correct. Why? How? How could this have happened? And even now when six people have been sent to jail for over 47 years, LBG are still putting out bland obfuscation as soundbites instead of doing the right thing. What will the latest Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, Lord Blackwell, do now?

What will Andrew Bailey, the CEO of the FCA, do now?

HBOS could have resolved this years ago – so could LBG. It would have cost peanuts compared to what it will cost after the criminal trial. There must be a reason the Banks didn’t do the right thing? Is all this denial just hubris? Or is this because the management feel obliged to continue with their denials in order to stop an even bigger scandal coming out?

I’ve called this blog “Ill-founded and Misconceived” because that’s what the Deputy Chairman of Denton Wilde Sapte said about our irrefutable evidence back in 2008. He wrote this in a letter to us on behalf of the Board of HBOS and after HBOS had done various investigations establishing the facts as documented in the criminal proceedings. I think the ex Board members may well regret leaving the letter writing to Mr McAlpine.

One last thing – much as I think he was always fighting a losing battle and he lost, I was very impressed by Mills’ Barrister Kieran Vaughn QC. So that’s two names for the record – Brian O’Neill QC and Kieran Vaughn QC – just saying.

When justice is delayed too long the Devil is dancing.

It’s very hard to write a rational, unemotional blog about the state of our financial system when I’ve just been to see a friend, who is a victim of bank fraud, who has been waiting for justice for over 10 years, and who is now dying of terminal cancer. But I’m going to try because too many people now are dying without ever seeing justice done. Perhaps just as bad, those they leave behind see little benefit to justice in the future because no amount of money or even bankers being jailed, can never bring back someone you love. There are some things money can’t buy.

I should add straight away that I’m not saying a bank caused my friend’s cancer – it didn’t. But years of stress, anguish, eviction hearings and trying to make ends meet will not have helped the situation. I’m not a doctor but it seems logical to me that the energy and willpower you need to try and fight of an evil disease like cancer and which should be your primary concern, is not aided when you have bailiffs at the door and a banks top lawyers trying to grind your chances of justice into the ground with legal technicalities and the ever promoted ‘costs’ threat.

That is a reality. When victims of bank misconduct are put with their backs against the wall, no one in authority says “hang on a minute, there’s a reason they can’t pay their Council tax or their bills”, they just go for the throat – which is why we have obscene programmes like ‘Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away.” Bankers on the other hand, faced with serious allegations that may see them facing fines or, God forbid, criminal charges, can rely on their fail safe – money. Shareholders money (in some cases tax payers money) to bail them out of difficult situations.

It’s only a month since the wife of one of the SME Alliance members died of a heart attack – and in that case I suspect the conduct of a bank was the root cause. When that happened it reminded me of an article I found years ago which was written as a result of research by Cambridge University academics, entitled “Can a Bank Crisis Break Your Heart?”: http://www.cam.ac.uk/news/can-a-bank-crisis-break-your-heart

Obviously a bank crisis and I would add bank policy, can break your heart but business, economic climate and political policy doesn’t seem very interested in the human cost of unethical or even criminal bankers conduct. I say bankers because, as always, I would remind everyone that despite legal terminology, a ‘bank’ is the sum of the people who run it. So I’m feeling pretty heart broken even although I’m not the person dying. Neither am I going to be the person most affected by living without my friend. Her husband and children are and even her parents (who can bear the thought of burying their child?).

Anyway, all this has just hammered me. I’ve found it hard to function in the last few days thinking my friend has a couple of weeks to live and there is no way I can do anything about it or even guarantee justice will be served when she’s gone.

I know it’s very non PC of me to talk about human tragedy and banking in the same breath – but tough. It’s about time we stopped pussy footing around what is happening. Above all else, I believe that as a society we should not let the interests of economics or globalisation over take our ability or even our wish to be decent human beings. Sadly, some people, whether because they are genuinely socio-paths or whether their terms of employment push them into that position, are losing site of their responsibilities as human beings.

Maybe they just don’t realise the consequences of their actions? Certainly many bankers and regulators seem willing to turn a blind eye to the reality of bad banking conduct – and this cavalier attitude to individuals is, ironically, doing good banking a huge disservice. Whereas it seemed totally unreasonable up until 2008 to suggest bankers were anything other than professional people and an essential part of society, in general the opposite applies now and the collective name for bankers is often derogatory regardless of whether they are perfectly good people or one of the acknowledged egomaniacs who have hit the headlines in recent years. No one bats an eye to “yet another banking scandal.” We have even become immune to them – right up to the moment they affect us personally. Right up to the moment a bank deliberately targets our business or repossesses our house. Right up to the moment we realise there is no defence against this immoral conduct.

I have been fighting for justice since 2007. I thought it would be easy and that, having identified a massive bank fraud, I could write to senior management of the bank concerned and they would be keen to investigate the matter and make sure any victims of the fraud were compensated and the villains persecuted. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since then successive senior managements have gone out of their way to bury the fraud I identified and even persecute the victims – presumably in the belief attack is the best defence. But why would you attack your own clients for things your own staff did? I don’t know why but I do know at Board level that has been the banks’ preferred choice.

Nine years on I am still waiting for justice – and so is my friend. Except now justice will come too late. When she dies and she knows she will very soon, she will be the sixth victim to have died without seeing justice for this particular bank fraud.

Last summer one of my colleagues at SME Alliance and I went to a meeting with Head Counsel and Head of Litigation for a major bank. When our conversation turned to Private Criminal Prosecutions, the Head of Litigation became quite outraged and he said that we should realise that when we make criminal allegations we are ruining people’s lives. Even now I remain confused by this comment – does he seriously not realise how many lives his bank is ruining? Not just ruining lives but taking lives? Clearly the man was capable of having empathy towards others because he seemed genuinely concerned we would consider criminal proceedings against bankers. So how comes this same bank is notorious for its lack of empathy to its customers? Are they considered as a different species? Is this why the good old personal bank manager had to go – because he did empathise with his clients? Maybe he even liked them so the idea of selling them  ‘products of mass destruction’ would have have been distasteful to him?

In terms of banking reform I believe we are walking backwards. No one is properly regulating banks and no one is stopping the merry-go-round of greed and corruption which remains rife in our financial sector. On the other side of the fence, public anger is not dissipating and when one person dies one hundred people dig their heels in harder and want to see justice done. In the same way you can only beat a dog so many times before it will bite you, you can only break so many hearts before the consequences become equally dire.

I wish the senior management of banks would wake up to this fact. Justice has a way of being done despite all attempts to stop it and that includes the apparently well known judicial phrase “might over right.”

It is fortunate my friend is deeply religious and she has no doubt she will be going to a better place – neither do I doubt it, she is a good and kind person. The one sure thing we know about life is we we all leave it one day and the departure lounge for that journey doesn’t have a first class section or private jets – just a completely level playing field or “right over might.”

How much more contempt must society swallow from banks?

Interesting few weeks – the election of course with the Conservatives winning a majority – who saw that one coming? And, in the process, the Tories appear to have demolished most of the other parties, not to mention some key names in politics. Of course the SNP helped the Tories enormously – the idea of Labour with the SNP running Westminster had a devastating effect. It’s almost as if we collectively had visions of bearded, kilted Scotsmen rampaging all over England intent on rape and pillage, when we still haven’t recovered from the suited and booted Scotsmen who ran the Government and some of the big banks – so that didn’t help poor Ed. And this just goes to show that while we pat ourselves on the back for being a liberal, accommodating, multi cultural society, the truth is we’re every bit as Nationalistic as Germany, France or Italy. And why not? What’s wrong with being fiercely protective of your Country? And while, in this instance, we conveniently forgot Scotland is part of Britain, I think many of us did reasonably feel that is a tenuous situation which a second referendum could change.

Anyway the Conservatives won and that was certainly a relief to big business who were apparently sure Ed Miliband was anti business. But I wonder if anyone in politics could make a difference to the whims and pleasures of major corporations now – and especially our financial sector?

One thing that has been made abundantly clear (again) in the last week with a US Judge handing out multi billion pounds fines to our big banks, is how much more powerful banks are than Governments. If I was trying to explain to an alien what’s been going on over the last twenty years in the ‘Incredible saga between banks and society’ I would say:

“From the late 90’s, bankers decided they could make more money and bigger bonuses by forgoing traditional banking and behaving recklessly, unethically and with gay, greedy abandon until this conduct nearly brought even the wealthiest of nations to their knees by 2008. So Governments bailed the banks out with the monies they collect in taxes to pay for essential services, even although this caused mass austerity for millions of ordinary people. But we never really got to the bottom of the reckless behaviour and we certainly didn’t blame anyone. So bankers realised very quickly they could carry on with that kind of behaviour and nothing much would happen.

Pardon? Yes we do have laws on this planet and yes bankers did break them but the leaders running the various countries on behalf of the people, decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to apply the laws to the bankers? Why – well apparently it’s complicated (or so we’re told) and, aside from anything else, we, the public, would have felt loath to trust a financial sector where some of the bosses turned out to be convicted felons.

Yes I know some of them may well be ‘criminals in pinstripe’ but that’s not the point. You can’t just go around calling people crooks if our justice system hasn’t confirmed it – so the trick is, don’t prosecute people and then no one can say they’ve done anything criminal.

What happened next? Well obviously, realising they had immunity from the law and could therefore do what the f*ck they liked with no personal consequence, the bankers dreamt up even more blatantly criminal scams to make money because – what did they have to lose? And when they (banks – not bankers) were found guilty of crimes, either their share holders or the tax payer (again) paid massive fines on behalf of the banks to the organisations set up to make sure banks did behave well and didn’t break any laws in the first place.

No I don’t know why these organisations didn’t police the banks properly. But I suppose if they had, they wouldn’t have been able to demand billions of pounds in fines at a later date.

What happened to the bosses running the banks? Well obviously they got huge bonuses even although they were overseeing criminal operations. And let’s be logical – the banks may have been fined billions of pounds but that’s a fraction of the profit they made while acting illegally. So you could say these bosses were doing a good job in terms of making money – which is all banks care about.

Yes, you’ve summed that up beautifully – the people bailed the banks out when they lost everyone’s money; then the banks carried on robbing the countries blind while paying their executives millions of pounds and finally; the public paid the fines for their criminal conduct. It’s a total Catch 22 as far as society is concerned.

I realise it makes no sense to you – it makes no sense to most people on the planet. Don’t we have a say in all this you ask? Well yes we do. We vote for the kind of leadership we think will be best for society and who will stop this kind of thing. So why doesn’t it stop? I don’t know. And yes, I’d say society is deeply offended our elected representatives have given bankers immunity from the laws of the land. Many of us are trying to do something about it. I have written many a letter to various leaders asking for a logical explanation to what’s going on http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I haven’t had any replies – no doubt our leaders are very busy trying to work out how to balance the scales of a disappointed and furious populace on the one hand and the all powerful and Government empowered banks on the other hand. It can’t be easy forecasting which camp will do the most damage if not appeased. Especially if there’s not much you can do about the situation.

And no, I don’t know how much more contempt society can swallow before it all turns very nasty.

What, you’re off to find a more logical, ethical planet for your holiday? I don’t blame you. At least you managed to catch the Eurovision Song Contest while you were here. Do you know, that used to be considered one of the most bizarre, hilarious and illogical things on the planet? Now it seems like a welcome break in an even more bizarre reality.”

So 5000 SMEs supported the Tories but who will support 5M SMEs?

For some reason – and I can’t for the life of me understand what the reason is – in the recent election debates, none of the political parties have raised the issues of banks (you know the ones that caused mass austerity) bank misconduct (PPI, IRHP, EFG’s, Libor rigging, GRG, HBOS Reading, money laundering for drug cartels etc. etc) or the related issues of law and order and a two tier justice system. You know, the one whereby the majority of crimes committed by anyone in our financial sector results in no one going to jail and shareholders paying hefty fines for the “get out of jail free cards”.

Apparently none of this conduct and none of these issues are relevant to the election and we don’t need to know what the parties intend to do about them – if anything?

It’s been suggested (and probably rightly) that politicians feel such a minority of the population has been directly affected by such issues, it’s not worth making a big deal about them – not really a vote winner.

I just want explain why I think that is a total misconception. It affects millions.

On Monday the Telegraph ran an article about the 5000 SME owners who have signed Baroness Brady’s letter and pledged their support to the Conservative party. Personally I don’t think that was a very wise PR tactic because the obvious question is, who do the other 4,995,000 support? However the point I want to make is – according to the article 5000 SMEs represents 100,000 jobs.

According to the FCA, more than 60,000 SMEs were mis sold IRHP (Interest rate swaps): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/10527353/FCA-chief-warns-Treasury-swaps-scandal-could-be-significantly-bigger.html

So by the logic of Baroness Brady’s letter, that would represent 1,200,000 jobs.

Recently, Clive May, a builder and founder member of SME Alliance, successfully got an admission from RBS that they had miss-sold EFG loans and were now investigating 1800 of them: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-2915335/Relief-fierce-critic-RBS-admission-mis-selling-loans.html

That’s another another 36,000 jobs and of course it’s the tip of the iceberg because a lot of banks were ‘mis-selling’ EFGs and, before that, SFLGs. According to Government statistics 1,740,736 EFG loans were drawn down between November 2008 and November 2013. Obviously, or should I say hopefully, not all of them were miss sold. But even working on the calculation only 10% were (and I think I’m being generous there) that’s still 174,073. Assuming (again hopefully) only 10% of that number resulted in SMEs being fatally damaged, that’s still 17,407 SMEs which, according to yesterdays statistics, equals approx. 348,000 jobs.

You see where this is going? Add to those figures the victims of asset stripping etc etc and you won’t get much change from the fact at least 100,000 SMEs who employed approximately 2,000,000 people, have been affected by bank misconduct. And that’s a conservative estimate. If you then add all the SMEs who were creditors of the failed businesses and who then had their own difficulties, the picture is very bleak. When I was investigating the HBOS Reading debacle, I started keeping a chart of the creditors affected and I gave up when I reached 20,000 – most of whom were SMEs.

All of the above wouldn’t be so devastating but for the other key issue being ignored in the election debate – justice and law and order. If SMEs could rely on the regulators, we may not feel so anxious to know what the political parties are planning to do about access to justice. But we can’t. I’m not going into detail here – but I can assure you that in the majority of cases, we can’t.

Neither can most of us afford civil litigation – and especially now when court fees have gone up to £10,000 while legal aid is all but non existent for SMEs. And, leaving aside court fees, in my view many SMEs are being seen as little more than cash cows by some legal firms who clearly think their remuneration should be on a par with bankers – regardless of whether or not they get results for their clients. And some, having milked the cow, drop the client the moment the udders run dry.

Where banks have committed criminal offences (and there have been many) we wouldn’t be so worried if we could report these crimes to the police and know justice would prevail. Again, in most cases that’s not an option and, on the odd occasion it does happen, you need to be prepared to wait years for any outcome. Generally speaking criminal prosecutions against bankers remain as rare as rocking horse sh*t and we’ve seen over and over again how banks deal with their crimes – they get shareholders to pay whacking great big fines and that’s the end of it.

Unbelievably our justice system and Governments (Labour and then the Coalition) seems to turn a blind eye to the fact so many crimes are going unpunished. Unbelievably, we, the public, have come to accept that status quo. There is now indisputable evidence bankers are not subject to the same laws as ordinary people. Additionally, SMEs know even when they can prove (and even in a Court) that a bank destroyed businesses, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything will be done about it: https://derekcarlylevrbs.wordpress.com/. Seems some banks are as cavalier in their view of a Judges power, as they are in politicians power.

I know I’ve waited 8 years for justice and it’s still not on the horizon. I know many members of SME Alliance are in the same boat. And those bankers who are deliberately perverting the course of justice by denying or burying criminality they are fully cognisant of, are still being given telephone number bonuses to continue this charade. Yes, Dave, Ed, Nick, we know all of that.

What we don’t know is: WHICH POLITICAL PARTY WILL ADDRESS THESE MATTERS AND SUPPORT SMES? #Justasking

But it’s never too late for someone to tell us. Who knows, maybe at the 11th hour one of the political parties will pull the cat out of the bag and show some support for the thousands of SMEs that have been ravaged by banks and who are really struggling to get justice.

And that could be a big vote winner.

BTW Before some annoying troll posts on twitter that neither I nor SME Alliance speak for or represent the views of all SMEs – I totally agree. That’s hardly the issue – this blog is about which politicians will speak out for SMEs – and will they do it before the election?

The Big Pink Elephants in the 2015 Election debate – ‘Law and Order’ – Justice.

smeallianceposterYesterday we had a call from a farmer in Scotland. Like many of the farmers we know, he took out what was supposed to be a bridging loan with UK Acorn Finance and now, with the claimed debt doubling in 4 years, he’s about to be evicted. In this particular instance he is being asked to pay back almost twice what he borrowed and, having made a substantial offer to ameliorate the situation, he and his wife are still being evicted. Sadly in this instance, I’m not sure what my husband Paul can do to help. Over the years and on top of our own 22 repossession hearings, Paul has become a bit of an expert at staving off evictions. But the call we had yesterday was to help stop an eviction due to take place on Tuesday. And to make matters worse, it’s a Bank Holiday in Scotland tomorrow, so there’s no time to do anything.

That was the third call for help we’ve had in five days. And that’s over and above the cases Paul is working on anyway to keep people in their homes or farms and to help them get compensation from various bank related scenarios that have devastated their lives.

Add that to the number of cases the SME Alliance adviser panel, Jon Welsby, Andy Keats, Ray Baker, Mel Loades and Steve Middleton are working on – or the cases Bully Banks are working on as well as the many other support groups and you start to get the picture. Whether because of IRHP, EFG, so called business support units like GRG or HBOS Reading, or out and out asset and land theft by dodgy sub-prime lenders working with the big banks, which is happening all over the Country, the fact is economic crime has reached epidemic proportions.

And the reason for this? A complete break down in law and order.

If it wasn’t so tragic, you’d have to laugh. For example, consider the news last week that an intruder alert from premises in Hatton Garden – diamond and gold centre of London – went off but the police decided to take absolutely no notice of it! I know the police have a severe aversion to economic crime but burglary? Really? They don’t go after burglars now?

According to the blog in the following link, the police HAVE to investigate all crimes and can’t pick and choose but it also confirms they often do their best not to investigate crimes.
http://crimebodge.com/how-to-force-the-police-to-investigate-a-crime/

In my experience that’s very true and a fraud investigator from my local police force once told me the police couldn’t investigate my allegations of fraud against a major bank because the bank in question assured them there was no fraud. A different police force did investigate this fraud albeit three years later and they have since called it “the biggest bank fraud in British history.” Mind you, whether the people charged ever actually stand trial is a debatable point – not that the law should be debatable. But that’s another story.

The point of this blog is – over and above the bizarre case of police ignoring a robbery in the diamond district of Britain, white collar crime continues to cause mass austerity and destroy thousands of SMEs in this Country, but not one person in the recent #leadersdebate, mentioned ‘Law & Order’, ‘Justice’, ‘White Collar Crime’, ‘Bankers’, ‘Bank Reform’, ‘Access To Justice’ or ‘SMEs’. Except for the Welsh candidate, who did give small businesses in Wales a brief mention.

So, how could anyone have a serious debate and ignore the big pink elephants in the Country? How can SMEs on the one hand be called the back bone of the Country and on the other hand, just before an election, the Government puts Court costs up so the inequitable situation we already have, has now got even worse? At a time when so many SMEs in the UK are so desperate for a more level playing field to protect themselves against errant banks with deep pockets and huge legal teams, Chris Grayling and his team have decided to dig a bloody great big hole in the field! And in doing so he has confirmed, yet again, in so many cases involving banks or the financial sector, justice is only available to the highest bidder. And will any of the other parties redress this situation? Well who knows. Nothing in the debate gave us any clues?

Yesterday I filled in a survey I had been sent by a university on the subject of the 2015 Election and the leaders’ debate. It asked me, amongst other things, if the debate had helped me make a more informed choice about who to vote for? NO. It absolutely didn’t help me make an informed choice because many of the key issues ruining this Country, were simply ignored. Yes the future of the NHS is hugely important. Yes immigration is very important – although I’m not sure who will do the many low paid but very essential jobs in the NHS if we adopt Nigel Farage’s policies on immigration. But surely Justice and Law and Order, which includes stopping bankers raping the Country, should have been on the agenda?

The fact it wasn’t really does make you wonder who is running the Country? Who decided what questions would be asked in the leaders’ debate? More importantly, who decided what questions would be excluded? Did someone run the list of questions past Ross McEwan, and Antonio Horta Osorio?

And, in a democratic country, how can things like this happen:

“A bankrupt Lanarkshire businessman fears that a seven-year-long legal battle with banking giant RBS will continue despite a landmark court ruling in his favour.

Property developer Derek Carlyle’s dispute with RBS began in 2008 when the bank pulled out of a loan leaving his business – Carlyco Ltd – “in ruins”.
However, last month the legal process took a turn to Mr Carlyle’s advantage when the UK Supreme Court ruled that a judge’s 2010 decision – that the bank had broken their promise to him over the loan – had been the right one.
Mr Carlyle said this week: “The fair thing for the bank to do now would be to fully accept the decision of the UK Supreme Court, admit they were wrong and settle the matter of damages.
“However, that does not appear to be the RBS way in my experience, and I therefore expect to have to take them back to court to force them to pay up.”
http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/rbs-bankrupt-lanarkshire-businessman-fears-5470583

Even when the Supreme Court rules a Bank, RBS, is in the wrong, it makes no difference. It’s as if the RBS executives think they’re in an episode of Kevin and Perry. “Yeh, so the Judge said we’re wrong. And? He is so unfair.”

What amazes me as much as anything, is the fact more MPs are not up in arms at the way some banks and bankers literally stick two fingers up to them and therefore to the democratic process. Occasionally some do show frustration and only recently Margaret Hodge on the Audit Committee was very obviously outraged with the answers she was getting from the “yes but my offshore account is all perfectly above board” and the “I can only look at the information I’m given at my £10k a day job” HSBC bosses. Similarly I’ve seen Andrew Tyrie at the TSC look extremely ‘miffed’ when talking to bankers. But what good does it do? Mr Tyrie may make the bankers squirm a bit but their seven figure salaries more than make up for a bit of ritual humiliation. And it’s not as if anyone has the power to stop what they’re doing. Or stop paying them handsomely to do more of the same. It seems whatever these top bankers do, good, bad, unethical or blatantly criminal, they face no penalty. How does that work? And what about party leaders? Have they considered the possibility that public perception is getting to the point where we are wondering if bankers have more power than elected representatives? And that’s across the board because Labour under both Blair and Brown were pretty keen on giving Knighthoods to the very bankers who brought the economy to its knees – and the coalition has shown itself to be equally fond of bankers.

So, going back to the forthcoming election, I’d be really grateful if any of the political parties would make it clear: where they stand on law and order; which party will focus on a more just society for all; which one of them will really cause serious reform in our major banks; which one of them will give the police and the SFO the resources they need to do their job properly; which of them will recognise the minimal access to justice SMEs have when trying to defend themselves against totally out of control rogue banks and; which party will realise how important SMEs are to the economy and give them the support they need? In short – who will lay these big pink elephants to rest?

As my good friend Nick Gould says – just asking.

Sadly I don’t think the answers, should anyone provide them, will do much good to the farmer and his family in Scotland who, it seems almost certain, will be evicted on Tuesday. Unless of course UK Acorn Finance decide they will, for once, do the right thing and accept the incredibly generous offer that’s been made to them? I hope so.

If – and I know it’s a big if – there is anyone reading this who could also help this family, please e-mail smealliance2014@gmail.com so I can pass on the details.