Tag Archives: Bank of Scotland

HBOS – The Long Road To The Truth SMEs Already Knew

I am of course delighted that yet another report is out about why HBOS failed and this time from the Treasury Committee. But I am also devastated to realise that 9 years after Paul and I started our investigation into HBOS; 8 years after we started writing letters and reports to the TSC; 8 years after journalist Ian Fraser and others published some of the unwholesome truths about HBOS and; 11 years after Paul Moore blew the whistle on the risks HBOS was taking, we now have yet another report arriving at the same conclusions we arrived at years ago re HBOS and the regulators. How can it be that such blatant misconduct has taken so long to identify?

As the truth becomes more and more apparent to the public, I can’t help feeling my family and many others would not have lived through 9 years of stress, anxiety and poverty had the authorities been prepared to listen to us when we first reported HBOS to them. Not just us and not just regarding HBOS but the numerous business owners who repeatedly report misconduct in our banks but whose views and allegations are not considered by any authority as we are not deemed to be ‘professionals’ with regard to the financial sector. Meanwhile the views and comments of bankers and other so called ‘professionals’ are given full consideration and endless hearings. I have been asking for a meeting with Mr Tyrie and the TSC for years – originally to give them information about HBOS and more recently to expose the collective issues of SME Alliance members.

I was disappointed again last week to hear Andrew Bailey, the new head of the FCA, pooh pooh SME Alliance to Andrew Tyrie – and, of course, we will not get a chance to reply except by letter. So while I’m really pleased the TSC is taking a more pro-active approach to miscreant banks and ineffective regulators, I really hope that in the future the voices from the SME sector are listened to earlier because we are on the front line and when it takes 9 years to expose the truth, we are the ones who suffer the consequences.

Here’s an extract from a letter to Andrew Tyrie and the TSC dated 27th February 2014 (the main part of the letter was about HBOS Reading so it can’t be published – yet).:

…..We bring this to your attention because this seems to be the crux of the problem between banks and SMEs:

There is no appetite from the authorities to prosecute serious criminality in the financial sector and because, it would seem, the FCA Objective of “Market Confidence” overrides all the other Objectives and Principles and even the Common Law. The Banks are fully aware of this and see no reason to stop the rape and pillage of SMEs because it is so highly lucrative for them.

The endless and substantial fines levied by the FSA/FCA against the big banks, are totally ineffectual in curtailing criminal activities or misconduct. How could these fines possibly work when no one is held responsible and the shareholders pick up the bill? We would ask how, in a democratic country, a bank can break the law by laundering money for drug cartels and yet no one is to blame? Do the drug cartels pick up the phone to an anonymous voice at a call centre specifically in place for money laundering – Press 1 for drug money, 2 for tax evasion, 3 for arms deals? Or do real people in the banks negotiate these deals? As we understand it, money laundering is considered to be a very serious crime – unless, apparently, you are a banker. And if Banks can override the law of the land so successfully, what hope is there that the authorities will step in to protect small businesses? And we have seen startling evidence where HBOS have been able to manipulate the justice system to keep the Bank and its employees out of criminal trials.

We have asked, on more than one occasion, for a meeting with you Mr Tyrie. The evidence we hold (which is not all with the police or the FCA – mostly because they do not want it under their remits) is, as our friend Mr Ken Olisa has described it, a time bomb waiting to go off. And even we, who are truly disgusted by the behaviour of some senior bankers, feel we should share the evidence with someone in authority. Not least because our 6+ years of work should be used to stop financial institutions being able to set up situations like HBOS Reading or GRG. Sub judice cannot last forever. Neither can the victims of these devastating crimes against small businesses be asked to rely on authorities who repeatedly do nothing to remedy the situation. And we believe pressure should be put on both Lloyds and RBS to rectify their bad treatment of SMEs before the true facts surrounding HBOS / Lloyds Banking Group are fully exposed as a last resort. ……

..Surely the time has come when the TSC has to listen to the voices of those business owners affected. We have watched the endless TSC/PCoBS interviews with bankers like Lord Stevenson, whose performances and explanations, quite frankly, beggar belief. But we never hear the TSC interview people from the other side of the fence. We never even hear about this being done ‘in camera.’

We can assure you the FCA has no interest in talking to individuals outside of the sector; the FOS is ineffectual when it comes to SMEs and; the police take little notice of reports of criminal conduct by banks if the report comes from individual business owners. In our case, when we made allegations of criminality at HBOS to the Cambridge police in 2007, we were told we were simply ‘”collateral damage” and only the Bank could request an investigation. The Bank, of course, did not want an investigation and insisted nothing criminal had occurred. Worse still, there is nothing the banks like more than to fight allegations against them by SMEs in the Civil Courts, where their highly paid legal teams rip business owners to shreds.

So who can SME owners report to Sir? As things stand, no one. And where can they get justice? No where. Our only hope is the Court of Public Opinion – and even that is becoming an increasingly lame option because most newspaper editors are unhappy to publish anything but the most generic of banking misdemeanour’s like PPI or IRSA. They need the advertising revenues and financial support from banks and, in many cases, the interests (some might say contamination) of executives who are board members of both banks and media groups, are instrumental in blocking adverse publicity.

What we need, without doubt, is a reliable and official method of communication between business owners and Government agencies like the FCA and the TSC. This must include people with first hand knowledge of serious malpractice by banks and/or bankers. We don’t suggest every business owner with a gripe against a bank should have access to the TSC. But where major frauds are perpetrated against multiple SMEs, we believe the TSC should be willing to listen to business owners and, further more, the banks should know the TSC will listen”……

Much has been said previously about giving the FCA more powers (to do what I wonder?) – personally I would like to see the TSC have more powers to act on all the information supplied to them. Because while I’m sure the great and the good dread being grilled by the TSC, ultimately they know little will come of it and that is a terrible waste of resource, time and opportunity. The TSC should be able to take action on their findings. Alternatively and as this latest report suggests, a completely separate agency should deal with enforcement of financial regulations. Either way someone should be able to deal more effectively than the FCA with financial misconduct and/or economic crime and it should be done in a timely manner – because 9 years is a long time to wait for justice. Not that we’ve seen much justice yet.

One last thought – we’ve recently had the FCA report into HBOS, the Andrew Green QC report into the FSA’s conduct in relation to HBOS and now the Treasury Committee report on Why HBOS failed – and that’s on top of the Bank of Scotland Censure report and the PCoBS report. We have all these reports identifying failure, negligence, incompetence and whole host of other issues  – so what happens next? Anything? Will we start to see bankers really held to account – will we see bankers prosecuted where appropriate?

Or will Mr Bailey’s comments in the Telegraph 14th December 2012 suggesting we can’t apply ordinary law to bankers, still hold fast:

“…would be a very destabilising issue. It’s another version of too important to fail. Because of the confidence issue with banks, a major criminal indictment, which we haven’t seen and I’m not saying we are going to see… this is not an ordinary criminal indictment.” http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

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.”

Now Is Not The Time To Stop Lobbying For Ethical Change.

I wrote this blog at the beginning of February this year but didn’t post it – I can’t remember why and I probably just got distracted by something to do with a bank! Anyway, today the article about George selling off Land Registry reminded me about this blog and why charitable or not for profit organisations like SME Alliance need to be lobbying more rather than less – and now we also need to lobby for the right to lobby!! If we don’t, I fear very soon freedom of speech itself will be threatened.

Happy Easter to all.

Nikki

Now Is Not The Time To Stop Anyone Lobbying For Ethical Change.

It seems the Government are closing yet another door to democracy. I find the announcement last week that charities cannot use State money (tax payers money) to lobby for any changes in the law, quite sinister and quite sneaky. Not least for charities who campaign for justice – of which there are many. I suspect funding from Government is quite minimal to such charities anyway but, whatever the amounts, it is likely to be diminished to any charity that dares to speak out against Government policy.

What I find so offensive about this new ruling is the fact that while Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, is right and this could result in charities, taking “a vow of silence”, it will also very definitely mean even less opposition or challenge to the mighty ‘lobbying machine’ of big business. It is already an inequitable situation because most charities are struggling for any kind of funding post the credit crunch and unlike big business, charities are not based on profits but on positive action for good causes. When charities lobby for a change in policy or law it is generally in reaction to what they have seen as the consequences of either ‘bad law’ or evolving necessities. When big business lobby’s, the goal is invariably market share, shareholder value, reduced regulation or, let’s face it, how to keep fat cats fat. And in far too many cases, ‘The Ministry of Revolving Doors’ means MPs or regulators have a keen interest in keeping big business happy.

I’m no expert in lobbying but, even a quick surf of the net shows just how important lobbying is. For example this simple explanation in the Guardian (March 2014) clarifies what lobbyists do:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/12/lobbying-10-ways-corprations-influence-government

To a certain extent we are all aware of what lobbyists do and we’ve got used to the idea some companies believe (probably correctly) the best way to get results is to rely on the familiar maxims “you get what you pay for” and “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” If there is no other side to the coin i.e people lobbying for something just because it is fair, equitable and with no financial gain, then what we’re really doing is paving the way for important laws and policies to be swayed or decided on a ‘highest bidder wins’ basis.

What the Government is proposing is a curb on legitimate challenge by charitable organisations by restricting their ability to fund lobbying activities. This is rather like our inequitable two tier justice system whereby very few individuals or SMEs can ever challenge big business (especially banks) in the Courts because they have been priced out of the system.

I found an interesting article in the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about our Top 10 most powerful lobbyists – although the article does date back to 2012 and this list of names has probably changed by now:

https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/07/13/britains-10-most-powerful-finance-lobbyists/

Of particular interest to me was No.2 on the list, Anthony Browne, Chief Executive of the British Banking Association. This organisation is funded by its members – the banks – to the tune of £7,729,000 in subscriptions (2014) and no one can say Mr Browne hasn’t done a good job (from the bankers point of view). Recently we’ve seen; the review into banking culture cancelled; various reports delayed for so long it means they are now about as useful as wet loo roll; a complete u-turn on holding senior bankers responsible for what happens in their banks and; any number of deals brokered for banks to pay their way our of repeated misconduct against consumers, breaches of financial regulation or even criminal prosecutions. Even if Mr Browne has slipped down to 4 or 5 on the list, surely it is hugely important to maintain a serious opposition to the powerful banking lobby?

If I had to say which banks have been most damaging to the members of SME Alliance, I’d say RBS is top of the list, followed by Lloyds/HBOS. Both banks were bailed out for billions of pounds by the tax payer and they have both paid a fortune in fines or compensation for various examples of misconduct. Both have representation on the BBA Board:

https://www.bba.org.uk/about-us/bba-board/

And both are represented by one of the most powerful lobbyists in the Country (and Mr Browne is just one of many powerful lobbyists for the financial sector). So – tax payers bailed out these banks and they are able to use tax payers money to lobby at the highest levels of Government in the same way they have used tax payers money to pay their fines, fight their battles in the Courts and continue with their telephone number pay packets to their senior executives. But the charities who are busy mopping up the catastrophic austerity the banks were so instrumental in causing, cannot use tax payers money to lobby for change or reform in banking or anything else.

Why? Because, according to Cabinet Office Minister, Matthew Hancock “Taxpayers’ money must be spent on improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of Government lobbying Government.”:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3434720/Charities-set-ban-using-Government-grants-lobbying.html

Yes, you have read that correctly – charities can’t spend tax payers money lobbying MPs for anything because the Government wants all charitable donations made on our behalf to be spent on making our lives better. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. I think Mr Hancock is relying on the logic of La La Land and his statement is wrong. As long as this Government continues to be happy for the Country to be run for the commercial gain of a minority, it is crucial tax payers money is spent on exposing such an undemocratic system and that charities have every opportunity to be as vociferous as possible about any and everything they identify as detrimental to society because of bad law, bad law enforcement or inequitable access to justice.

Reading the list of the top 10 most powerful lobbyists in Britain, I would say the financial sector is becoming a bit of a ‘lobbying cartel’ which doesn’t just have the ear of the Conservative party, it controls the whole head, arms, legs and torso. When the Conservatives were voted back into power, it seems the real victory was for ‘The City of London’ and now the ‘masters of the universe’ have found another way to make its ‘puppet’ limit any further opposition to its avaricious and anti social plans. What next I wonder? We’ve already seen the results powerful lobbying has on Government (all three of the main parties) – the most obvious being soft touch regulation of a corrupt financial sector that brought the whole country to its knees and has seen thousands of people relying on food banks. Now we’re going to see ‘the consequences of inequitable lobbying power.’ Maybe we should all order in a good stock of banana’s before the next insidious brain wave.

Ironically and without doubt this latest and dangerous lunacy has come about because of powerful lobbying. And the spin factor, that ‘it’s all for our own good’, is very offensive and implies this Government thinks we, the public, are all very stupid. Now is not a good time to stop Charities lobbying – it’s time we all started lobbying our MPs to take power back from big business before we really do become a Banana Republic.

Justice delayed is justice denied #HBOS

I wrote this blog on Tuesday 6th October 2015 but I didn’t post it because I didn’t want to tempt fate. Unfortunately fate is doing it’s own thing right now and my premonition was no more than logic. Dressed up in different clothes but all the same, on 9th October 2015 the HBOS Reading trials were put back to September 2016.

There is nothing in this blog that breaches sub judice. This isn’t about the merits of the case it is only about the conduct of the case and I make no mention of the content of the allegations. I would however point out that 9th October was a very very sad and even catastrophic day for a lot of people – but, as always, that seems fairly immaterial to the situation and, as far as I know, no one considered the victims when the case was moved.

Justice delayed is justice denied (written 6th October 2015).

Six years ago today Paul and I finished writing a report for the FSA on the subject of HBOS Reading. At that point we had already been investigating events originating at HBOS Reading (that’s the PC description) for over two years. Also at that time we were living on the bread line, our business had been trashed, HBOS/Lloyds had already tried to evict us about 17 times (22 times in total) and no one was really interested in our allegations of fraud.

In 2010 Thames Valley Police finally started an investigation and 12 people have been arrested. It took until January 2013 for anyone to be charged and the criminal trials were due to start in January 2015. But in October last year, the victims of HBOS Reading were suddenly told the trials had been delayed for a year. They are now due to start in January 2016 – or are they?

Call me a cynic but the articles in the press yesterday about the Chancellor, George Osborne’s intentions to off load £2BN worth of Lloyds shares with various discounts and incentive schemes thrown into the pot, rang some alarm bells. This bargain basement sale is due to have completed by Spring 2016 and I can’t help but wonder if a major criminal trial about events in Lloyds unruly pup HBOS is really going to persuade the public they want to get involved with Lloyds?

Of course Lloyds don’t need to rely on the antics at HBOS to tarnish their reputation. At SME Alliance we see examples of outrageous and potentially criminal bank conduct every day and while it would seem Lloyds can’t actually hold a candle to RBS, they don’t do so well in the popularity stakes. Lloyds have huge issues to address and plenty of group litigations to look forward to. Do they care? According to Rowan Bosworth-Davies, giving a powerful speech at an SME Alliance meeting yesterday, top bankers consider themselves to be a protected species. I have no doubt he’s right and that’s exactly what they believe.

However, what worries me more than the conduct of bankers is the conduct of politicians and the judiciary.

To be honest, if I was George Osborne I would be absolutely desperate to get rid of all and any shares in RBS or Lloyds – and he clearly is. Apparently RBS are now going to buy back their own shares to help the Government out: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/11900014/RBS-could-buy-back-its-own-shares-to-aid-Government-sell-off.html

Meanwhile Lloyds are now going to become the best thing since SID. Fine, and I really wouldn’t care (because I can see why George is doing it, although the ethics of letting RBS buy their own shares with the money they borrowed from the State, does seem something that would have Mr Micawber turning in his grave) except that, in the case of Lloyds, I have a horrible feeling that all those skeletons Mr Horta Osorio wanted dragged out of the cupboard when he took over as boss, are about to be put back in and even bricked up.

HBOS is a delicate subject in anyone’s book and I suspect the forthcoming book ‘Crash Bank Wallop’ by Paul Moore, the HBOS Whistleblower and a good friend, will be considered by some as being as delicate as the trigger on a hand grenade! There’s nothing the authorities can do about that and I dare say Mr Horta Osorio will react in a similar way to David Cameron when Lord Ashcroft’s book about him came out. In the name of dignity he will just try and ignore it. But it will rankle and it will beg the question “why the hell did Lloyds get involved with a basket case bank?”

Then there’s the HBOS report which apparently some MPs are getting a bit tetchy about. As I blogged the other day, we have been warned about the likely redactions. But in my opinion, redactions won’t be enough. I think it’s likely to be delayed again and, if not, the redactions and re-write’s to protect the great and the good (not Hornby, Cummings, Stevenson or Crosby – I don’t think they are a protected species any more) will mean the report has limited value. We may get something in October as we’ve been promised but I’m guessing the full report, when all the Maxwellisation and Re-Maxwellisation has been completed and enough lawyers have made sufficient money to sail off to the Cayman Islands in a beautiful pea green boat, will appear late Spring and after the Lloyds shares have been sold. And on whose orders?

A lot of people will be eager to read Paul’s book and the HBOS report (believe me, the book will be the better read). However, the victims of HBOS Reading are not waiting to read a book. Not even my book which is about HBOS Reading. We are waiting to get our lives back and we’ve waited a very long time. Given the trials are about events that happened between 2002 and 2007, some of us will have been waiting 14 years by the time the trials are over. And the idea (and it is only a suspicion) that the trials will be moved again to fit in with the Lloyds share sale or for any other reason, makes me feel physically sick. Not only because I am tired, I’ve had enough and I want out of the nightmare this has become – but because I am literally terrified at the idea politicians can manipulate the criminal justice system to suit their ends and those of the 1%!

Surprisingly I have a lot of friends who are lawyers, barristers, QCs and even the odd Judge. They are good people and I know many of them care passionately about justice. They are also common sense people and I know many of them have campaigned against the cut in legal aid and the rise in court costs for people who can ill afford to take on gigantic corporate organisations.

SME Alliance relies on the good advice we get from good people in the legal world – some of our members haven’t always had good advice but we are gradually getting together a very good team. When I explain to my friends how often the Reading trials have hit delays and for how long, they are shocked. I’m not sure our new friend Rowan Bosworth-Davies will be shocked if, for what ever reason the HBOS Reading trials are moved to late Spring. I don’t think my good friend Brian Basham will be shocked nor will Paul Moore be shocked.

I won’t be shocked but I will be devastated. If it happens and I genuinely pray we won’t have another delay, it will cause untold pain, misery and unhappiness for a group of people who are already at the end of their wits. And personally, whatever reason is given for another delay, I will find it hard not to think it is to accommodate George Osborne’s sale of the Lloyds shares. And, were that to be the case (although of course that would never be the reason given) that would be a bad day for democracy and for truth and justice because, whatever politicians do and what ever power they have, they should never have the power to interfere with justice.

 

 

 

Dear Sirs, this is hardly flattering. Please redact. #HBOS

IMG_3454I’m confused – for years now the FSA followed by the FCA have been looking into the conduct of HBOS. Whether or not he is considered good guy or bad guy, I know Hector Sants (who admittedly took some persuading) was eventually keen to get to the bottom of what had been going on in HBOS and he wasn’t in the mood for ‘cover up’ when he released the BoS Censure Report in March 2012. Not long after that he mysteriously went from being the golden boy tipped to take a top job at the Bank of England, to relative anonymity. Since then nothing has been heard about the Section 168 Report commenced in June 2010 specifically into HBOS Reading (probably because of the ever pending criminal trials due to start in January 2016) and the overall report into HBOS and its top management has been continually delayed.

Articles in the press yesterday seem to confirm that report will be out next month (October 2015). However, even now, after the endless delays and God knows how much spent in legal fees by the Bank (I imagine Lloyds has picked up the bill for Stevenson, Hornby, Cummings and Crosby – if he’s actually included) and the regulator, we have now been warned to expect redactions.

How does that work? The regulator does an in depth investigation into the catastrophic demise of HBOS and the people who were running the Bank don’t like the conclusions the FCA have reached – so they are able to have certain parts redacted. I’m not saying the report found anything criminal (although in my personal view I fail to see how it couldn’t have found some very shady conduct) but even in a civil court, could someone ask a Judge to redact the bits of evidence they don’t like? Imagine, “your honour, I don’t think the evidence before you puts me in a favourable light so I’d like that bit crossed out.” I would love to have any current photo taken of me photo shopped so I look thirty years younger but the truth is, I’m not. These possible redactions are similarly trying to change history – and it can’t be done. Neither should anyone countenance attempts to do so.

I have been told (repeatedly) that the FCA has quite extraordinary powers, should it care to use them. I know the powers of the FSA were split between the FCA and the PRA but all the same, how can top bankers or their legal teams, oblige the regulator to redact the findings of its own report? It makes no sense. Neither does the sharp ‘Harp’ exit of Mr Wheatley make sense. I find the whole thing very concerning. Rumour (or the media) has it, Mr Wheatley was too ‘consumer friendly’ and this did not fit in with Mr Osborne’s plans to make sure the City Of London retains pride of place in the financial world. Which is a bit odd because lately, even the BBC has been portraying the Square Mile as something akin to the Guild of Thieves from the Disk World.

Therefore, what worries me is this: if Mr Wheatley had to go because he wasn’t banker friendly enough, how can we expect Mr Osborne to allow a full, frank portrayal of what went on at HBOS?

Although various MPs and, I think, the TSC have demanded to see any redacted passages, how can other people, who have first hand experience of what was going on at HBOS, ever challenge what they will never see? I do know what some of the information and evidence the PRA received to contribute to this report was, as I sent some, as did Paul Moore. We didn’t send it randomly in the hope someone would read it, we were in direct contact with the PRA and the Bank of England via the Governor and we know they all received and read our evidence. Consequently we have our own views on what the FCA Report should include. It’s not a pretty picture and I have often wondered how the bankers concerned would refute this evidence? Well obviously, if the contentious or nasty bits of the report are redacted, they won’t have to!

Redaction has been a big issue with SME Alliance recently. Members sending Direct Access Requests (DSAR) to get their information from their own central files in banks (mostly RBS) have received such varied replies, we’ve asked both RBS and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to clarify exactly what members should expect to get. The answers so far have been as clear as mud but it is pretty clear no one should be getting entire pages redacted. Neither should anyone be getting information that has been manipulated or tampered with (that’s another story coming soon). We are struggling to get to the bottom of Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 and a definitive interpretation. But I’m not sure Section 7 of the DPA was ever intended as a barrier to regulators publishing reports on banks or bankers! Neither was Maxwellisation and the remarkable Re-Maxwellisation meant to be used as a means of delay or ‘cover up.’ These are clearly new techniques invented by the very clever (and well paid) lawyers of La La Land – but that doesn’t mean we or the regulators should blithely accept them.

My other concern is that while this report may actually be more candid than others before it (I’m remembering the 1 page press release fiasco from Lord Turner about RBS http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmtreasy/640/640.pdf ), it will be written in such a way as to minimise any potential legal actions against Lloyds Banking Group who merged with HBOS. Contagion is a huge issue for the banks and I’m sure the emphasis of this report will be on “this is what HBOS did but Lloyds were totally unaware of any of this.” Which begs the question (again) – why would Lloyds go ahead with such a critical merger without knowing chapter and verse of what they were getting involved with? Money laundering rules being what they are these days (or profess to be), banks need so much information to open an account, I’m waiting for “what colour knickers are you wearing” to be added to the list of KYC questions. So it is inconceivable Lloyds had inadequate detail about their new partner. And, in my opinion, Lloyds didn’t just merge with HBOS, they’ve done a pretty good job at morphing into the same sort of unethical and unattractive organisation.

Last thing – I know many victims of HBOS have waited years now for some sort of closure. The criminal trials regarding HBOS Reading have taken years to happen (if they ever do) and the various reports on HBOS have been endlessly delayed and now (probably) redacted. While I don’t suppose the ex management of HBOS have been quite as cavalier about the FCA report as they were about running the bank, I very much doubt if any of them have suffered anything like the hardship the banks’ victims have. Some of us have had our businesses ruined and our lives on hold for many years. Not to mention the many people who lost their savings and their retirement plans via the disastrous way HBOS was run. So I really hope, regardless of the HMT’s desire to hang on to its golden goose (that many of us feel is actually a dead duck), that when the HBOS Report does finally come out, it is as honest as harsh and as damning as it should be. Hector left us with the BoS Censure Report – before Mr Wheatley left, let’s hope he finished the job and, for once, let the blame fall where it’s due.

Save The Bank, Call In The Diplomats! Really??? #RBS

IMG_5058aBefore SME Alliance was started, I would have been hard pressed to believe any bank could behave as badly as Bank of Scotland and its keeper Lloyds Banking Group. Now I’m pretty sure RBS could give HBOS/Lloyds a run for their money in the bad banking stakes. Not a day goes by without a new nightmare story about RBS or Nat West arriving in the SME Alliance in box. Which isn’t to say HBOS/Lloyds has been knocked off my top spot but is rather, a sad reflection of how systemic malpractice is in our banks.

Consequently I don’t know whether to be shocked by the news Jacob Rees-Mogg has asked UKFI to call in the troops to get RBS out of it’s £5BN fine from the US, or whether I think he has a point? From my own point of view it’s tough enough to get RBS to compensate the many UK firms it trashed in its GRG division or it has forced into bankruptcy with exorbitant exit fees for destructive products like IRHP. In fact it’s hard enough – in the face of indisputable evidence, to get them to admit black is black. Paying £5BN to the Americans will surely make it even tougher for UK victims of RBS to get compensation? And what about shareholder (taxpayer) value? We’re already reportedly going to lose £13BN on the sale of RBS – do we have to add £5BN to that figure?

On the other hand, as the US authorities have levied this penalty for the banks sub-prime activities, should RBS, yet again, get away with no penalty? God knows why (and he’s not telling) but apparently senior bankers can’t get prosecuted for the multi billion pound scams they over see, so would it be right to use diplomatic means to curtail the US ability to fine banks as well?

I think this is quite an extraordinary conversation reported in the Telegraph today:

(UKFI) “Are you saying to the Treasury they should use the government’s diplomatic efforts with our closest ally to avoid the British taxpayer being fined $8bn by the American taxpayer?”

(Mr RM)“If I were you, I would be saying, what is the British embassy for if it is not trying to get RBS off this fine? Our closest ally fining us $8bn is pretty stiff.”

There’s a spin and a half. This suddenly isn’t about the misconduct of RBS in America and the penalty they should pay. No, this is about American taxpayers trying to fleece British taxpayers! And if the Americans don’t want to go along with this so called justified diplomacy to get RBS off the hook, what next? Call in the tanks? Really?

Leaving the American issues to one side for a moment, yesterday an article in Reuters, suggested Ross McEwan may have to admit the GRG division of the bank actually did do what many of us have been screaming from the roof top for years – it has been deliberately ruining SMEs and taking (stealing) their assets. Apparently the FCA have “got something” which is a bit of a game changer and the forthcoming report will expose this – or some of it. And this news has come out now because? In my opinion I’d say it’s because the bank is preparing us for an announcement in the near future along the lines of:

we are shocked to discover that in certain instances the allegations made about the treatment of SMEs by the GRG division may potentially have some validity. As a result of the FCA investigation we now have enough evidence to show a small number of SMEs have indeed been poorly served by the bank and we will, of course, make enquiries into what happened in these cases with a view to contacting affected parties.”

Someone who spends a lot of time investigating what goes on in RBS told me a few days ago that, in the event all the outstanding issues RBS has with SMEs were to be addressed, the bill for proper compensation would be in the region of £40BN. Of course that’s not going to happen. If politicians are kicking off at the idea RBS have to pay the US £5BN, what are the chances this Government would allow the bank to pay UK SMEs eight times that? None. The Government may not have any full proof way to stop the US getting its money but they have all sorts of ways to make sure SMEs can’t get theirs. It’s a tall order for most SMEs to even get into a Court room to progress a claim let alone take on the bank’s mighty legal teams.

All the same, I know there are some very determined people out there and some big class actions in the pipe line. With such large losses looming, George Osborne must be worried about the share sale he is so determined to achieve. That’s without even considering the debate on whether or not he should be selling RBS in the first place. I know there’s many organisations and campaign groups who feel RBS should just be nationalised and then split up into smaller banks that would at least be of some use to society. I would agree except that we’ve already lost a fortune on this bank and nothing I have seen or heard in the past 6 months convinces me of anything other than the fact RBS is heading very fast into a brick wall.

Whether the bank is sold back into the commercial world or nationalised, the barrage of allegations and litigation heading its way is not going to stop. And some of the things coming have not even been mentioned yet – in fact I don’t even know if Ross McEwan is aware of what’s coming? I’m very sure the FCA doesn’t.

I suppose another option is if Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister – he might nationalise RBS, insist no shareholders got anything and no one could could litigate against the bank? But I can’t see that going down well with anyone and least of all the bankers who might then be asked to live on a normal wage.

So what should happen to RBS? Who knows? My husband thinks (and he even said it in a meeting at 10 Downing Street) the only way forward between the banks and the SME sector is a “truth and reconciliation” scenario. It would cost a lot for the banks to come clean and work out suitable compensation for the thousands of SMEs they’ve gratuitously ruined but, were such an agreement even vaguely possible, everyone, including the SMEs would have to take a reasonable and moderate approach. And the billions of pounds the banks would save on expensive lawyers, barrister and court fees would go a long way too righting wrongs, getting the SME sector back on it’s feet and re-establishing some trust.

#RBS to sell or not to sell – won’t make any difference to the fact this bank has backed itself, the Government and the Country into a corner. And no, Mr Rees-Mogg, the British embassy is not there to protect a British Bank from the consequences of its own misconduct. The tax payers didn’t ask for the opportunity to bail RBS out and become shareholders – it was a fait accompli. As such, one would have thought our own Government, regulator’s and justice system (not to mention UKFI) would have been keen to protect the public investment and stop our bankers behaving like bandits.

One last thing – Nick Gould and I had a great meeting this week at the Metro Bank with Peter Musumeci Jr, the right hand man of Vernon Hill. I’m not saying the Metro Bank is perfect and any SME owner could waltz in there tomorrow and get exactly what it wants. However, not only would I say the ethos of the Metro Bank is refreshingly different to our big banks, they also listen and wanted to know what are the key things the SME sector is looking for in a bank. Funnily enough, a lot of what we want is contained in the FCA Principle for Business, starting with principle 1. Integrity. Sadly integrity has been off the menu in some banks for so long I can only think some of our more illustrious bankers have forgotten what it means.

Photograph © Laura Maria Photography 2015

SME Alliance meetings at EMM Law and Metro Bank. A really brilliant day!

IMG_8976Yesterday was a double whammy for SME Alliance – we had a morning meeting sponsored by EMM law http://www.emmlegal.com/meet-the-lawyers/kate-mcmahon/ on the subject of Private Criminal prosecutions and an afternoon meeting sponsored by the Metro Bank. I didn’t attend the morning meeting (no room at the inn) so I can’t say a lot except we’ve had some really good feedback and we’d like to thank Kate McMahon and her team at Edmonds Marshall McMahon for their hospitality and for explaining how the process of Private Criminal Prosecutions works. Hopefully Andy Keats, who set the meeting up for us, will blog about it in the very near future.

The afternoon meeting at the Metro bank also went brilliantly. Derek Granville, our host, was our first speaker and he explained both the ethos of the Metro bank and the way they work. Two things in particular were music to the ears of our members. First – they don’t want to sell you financial products. So no PPI, no swaps and no other dodgy, so called, insurance. Secondly the Metro Bank is completely deposit funded and there is no wholesale funding. So they are not reliant on the ‘money market.’ Sophie took loads of notes of the whole meeting and we will post all the main points Derek made as soon as she has typed her notes up. But I can say a lot of us were very impressed with what Metro bank has to offer and it does seem like they are bringing back old fashioned banking where you know who you’re dealing with and what you’re dealing with.

IMG_9015Our second speaker was Andrew Hilderbrand http://gunnercooke.com/team/andrew-hildebrand/ who is a mediator. And whereas the word ‘mediation’ means an alternative form of bank bullying to some of our members, Andrew very eloquently put the case for positive mediation. As many members pointed out, it’s not always the case you can get a bank to consider positive mediation as they’re used to having everything on their terms. However, tying this in with our report to Andrea Leadsom where we suggested ‘FOS Plus’ would require banks and clients to ‘mediate’ early on in the process of dispute resolution, Andrew’s brand of very successful mediation would work very well. Will blog in more detail soon – or better still I’ll ask Andrew to blog.

Our last speaker was Lindsay Whitelaw from Urica. This company offers a very different type of factoring. I have never thought much about factoring except when people call to talk about Bibby (which they often do) but what Urica is offering sounds very different and very positive. The difference with ordinary factoring is Urica requires no personal guarantees and only checks the credit worthiness of the creditor. Anyone who uses factoring services should check Urica out: https://urica.com/ As their website says – “It’s not invoice discounting because that’s just debt by another name.” So it’s an interesting concept and a very new business model.

IMG_8990

Overall it was a great meeting with many new faces including people I’ve been talking to for years about HBOS, Lloyds, bank fraud, SME issues, but I’ve never met. And both Jon and Nick invited some interesting guests. But as always it was really great to see all of our founder members there. I know some people came from Scotland, Wales, the West Country and the North of England. Thank you all for making the effort to travel so far to join us. And thanks also to the two new members who felt it was so positive they have offered to sponsor us.

I will blog again over Easter in more detail but, if I don’t get another blog out before Easter Friday, Happy Easter to all and many thanks for your support. Who would have thought we could achieve so much in such a short time???

p.s I don’t know what time everyone left the Shakespeare’s Head where networking was still going strong when the Turner crew left about 7.00pm but I’m guessing Weatherspoons like SME Alliance!

Guest Blog – A Letter to Shareholders in Lloyds Banking Group plc

25th March 2015

Dear Fellow Shareholder

Corporate Jet Services Limited/Corporate Jet Realisations Limited (in Liquidation) (“CJR”)

Sycamore Limited is a small shareholder, previously in Halifax Bank of Scotland plc (“HBOS”), and now in Lloyds Banking Group plc (“Lloyds”). We urge you to join us in demanding an agenda item at the next available General Meeting to give an account of the CJR affair and to explain what the current board will now do to make good the damage to shareholders’ interests past and present which it has caused.

That damage was firstly the loss of some £150 million of shareholders’ money by what it is extremely difficult to see as other than a fraud which has never been explained; followed by a toxic culture of denial and cover up which has persisted ever since. Lloyds knows the facts but it is not telling. You may have read something about Corporate Jet Services in the press or on the internet but Lloyds has maintained a lofty silence. We have written to our Chairman, Lord Blackwell several times but he does not reply and he brushed aside a shareholder’s question at the last AGM.

If we want our bank to be soundly profitable, to deal fairly with its customers, to promote honest business practice and to pay maintainable dividends – in short to make a clean break with the past some truth and reconciliation is required. The bank must also pursue those responsible for CJR and who have benefitted from it within and beyond the Bank, for restitution of the millions they have misappropriated.

The history of CJR was short but disastrous for shareholders. In 2003 HBOS set up what was effectively a secret subsidiary company, lent it £12.8 million secured on executive jets worth about £8 million and equity capital of £2,500; and proceeded to pump money through it until it was shut down in September 2007 by PricewaterhouseCoopers as Administrative Receivers at a cost to the Bank’s shareholders of about £150million. That company was CJR and it banked with the High Risk Unit in Reading. Tellingly, the Bank paid off all third party creditors and sold the good bits of CJR to the management team for a song, presumably as a thank you for their skillful services rendered. After 2004 by which time it owed the bank
£28 million CJR produced no statutory financial statements, in blatant breach of Company Law, so there is no public record at all of where most of the money went. Lloyds will not even tell the Liquidator of CJR and has threatened us with legal action if we support him in his requirement for that information. Certainly it appears that much of the money went to the Isle of Man and some was used to fund the purchase of two luxury motor yachts. The Bank’s official line, in so far as it has one, maintained by Lloyds to this day, was that CJR was the result of some overenthusiastic lending by a manager in the High Risk Unit in Reading
and that none of the lost money is recoverable. Admittedly, HBOS probably did regard £150 million of shareholders’ money as peanuts. It raised £4billion in a rights issue shortly afterwards in 2008 and secretly borrowed £25 billion from the taxpayer to keep itself afloat. Nobody felt that needed mentioning to the shareholders of Lloyds when they voted on the merger in 2009, so why would they mention a mere £150 million?

We believe that the CJR affair goes to the heart of the HBOS and now Lloyds banking culture. You may think that you deserve an explanation. Lloyds does not. Nor does the public shareholder, UK Financial Investments, which still holds nearly 25% of Lloyds and could singlehandedly get CJR on the agenda, but has told us that the matter has nothing to do with them. Neither it seems do the authorities think that you deserve an explanation. In fact it appears that everybody involved with Lloyds has long known about CJR except the ordinary shareholders. We believe that shareholders are entitled to a full explanation, a heartfelt
apology, action to recover the money, and real cultural change.

The key questions are;
1 Where has the money gone?;
2 Who approved the CJR “lending”?;
3 Who else knew about it?;
4 Who has benefitted from that money?;
5 Will Lloyds now take disciplinary action against those directors and employees responsible for CJR and the cover up?;
6 Will Lloyds now pursue for compensation the individuals responsible, whether inside or outside the Bank, without fear or favour?

Please send an email and/or write as follows in your registered name and address as a shareholder to:
Malcolm.Wood@lloydsbanking.com
Malcolm Wood, Group Company Secretary,
Lloyds Banking Group plc
25 Gresham Street
London EC2V 7HN

I/we as a shareholder in Lloyds Banking Group plc (“LBG”) request that the following be
included as an agenda item at the next available General Meeting of the Company, being a
matter which ought to be explained in the interests of the shareholders:

“An explanation of the Company’s involvement in the affairs of Corporate Jet Realisations
Limited (in Liquidation) Company number 04521080”
I/we hold (number of shares registered in your name) shares [this is optional but preferable – see note (i) below]
Registered Name of shareholder:………………………………………..

PLEASE NOTE that according to the Company Secretary:
(i) To be accepted, the request must be submitted by members holding at least 5% of the issued share capital of Lloyds Banking Group plc or by at least 100 members holding at least 1,000 shares each (£100 worth of 10p nominal value shares).
(ii) the request must be received at least six weeks before the AGM or, if later, by the time the notice of the AGM is given.

As of 22nd March the notice of the 2015 AGM has not yet been issued. Given that the 2015 AGM is to be held on 14th May to ensure that your request is accepted for the AGM it should be submitted before 2nd April 2015.

Make your voice count. You may also like to ask your MP to raise this matter with the government and with UKFI.

So that we may check that the threshold for acceptance has been reached please email a copy of your request to:
mpage@sycamore.aero
Yours sincerely
Sycamore Limited
Michael Page
mpage@sycamore.aero

25 pointers on how to get a bank to take your complaint seriously – and how to keep going until they do.

I found this document last night when I was trailing through old files. I wrote this back in June 2012 and decided it might be helpful to some people so I’ve given it a slight update. It’s an extract from a book I was writing called ‘A consumer guide to dealing with banks, bailiffs and other bullies.’ Maybe I will finish it one day.

June 2012 was a very tough time for Paul and I and our family because in April we’d been visited by a senior enforcement officer of the FSA (now FCA) who insisted we should tell Lloyds Banking Group what we wanted after all we’d been through (regarding matters related to HBOS Reading). He implied the Bank would finally compensate us and he said the FSA knew we were very entitled to compensation. But it didn’t happen. We wrote to the bank and they wrote back with the V sign – as in “vattene fanculo” which is a very rude colloquial Italian phrase to say get lost. So, after 5 years battling, we had 5 minutes of hope which was very quickly dashed. That’s why I wrote the document below – to help anyone else in the same boat and to stop similar disappointment.

Times have moved on a lot since then and where as a victim of financial crime used to struggle to expose what was happening, nowadays some of the big banks expose their crimes for us! Everyday the papers have a new banking scandal in them and the regulators, the Government and the public are all aware that some banks have a serious propensity to dishonesty.

Fortunately this blatant misbehaviour has meant bank culture has had to start changing (a tiny bit) and, better still, we have some new players in the market place like Metro Bank who are gaining popularity exactly because they don’t have a business model which sets out to mistreat its customers or SMEs.

All the same, many of us still have serious and unresolved issues with our banks and everyday I hear about more cases where people are really struggling to keep going or, in some cases, keep their sanity in the face of very unethical behaviour by banks. So I hope these pointers which are entirely my own thoughts after living through 7 years of outrageous treatment from HBOS and Lloyds Banking Group, will help anyone newly acquainted with bad banking practice!

  1. What you’re up against – the 3 D’s.

    Many bank’s rely on a policy of 3 D’s – deny, delay, dilute. When you first realise you’re up against multi billion pound corporation who is going to; deny everything you say; take months to reply to you; delay any resolution for years and; dilute your case by muddying the waters with legal technicalities, you will, quite naturally, feel despondent and impotent. That is the first hurdle to get over. Be aware this is what they are likely to do. Expect it. The quicker you do, the quicker you can get on with challenging their tactics.

  2. Do your research.

    Make sure you have your facts 100% right – not only about your case but also that you know exactly what you can really expect from your bank and what their obligations really are, as opposed to what you think you can expect. For example, a banks’ primary duty is to its shareholders and not to its customers. Also, however boring it is, read and reread every document you have from the bank. Then cross reference it with their code of conduct, the BBA code of conduct and the FSA Principles. Most of the codes are voluntary (FSMA rules are not) but even so, it helps to document in writing to the senior people at the bank exactly how many of the voluntary codes their bank has broken. It sounds complicated – it’s not that bad. And if you’re in it for the long haul, things like the FSA principles and FSMA 2000 will become regular reading to you. Although having said that, almost every example of malpractice can be shot down with Principle 1 of the FSA Principles: “A Firm must conduct its business with integrity.”

  3. Make a complaint in writing to the banks internal complaints department.

    Very often a waste of time and you will almost certainly get a negative reply but, if you don’t go through this process, everyone, including the regulators will have an excuse not to look at your complaint until you have.

  1. Write politely but firmly to senior executives of the bank, the CEO and the Chairman.

    If you are sending your correspondence electronically, always ask for a read receipt and if you’re sending by post, ask for an acknowledgement of receipt as well as a rely. You might also consider sending correspondence by registered post. The fact you can confirm they definitely received your correspondence can be very helpful later as they cannot deny someone knows what the content was. Also, make the point in your letter or e-mail, over and above the fact you would like the Board or the executives to deal with your complaint, you are writing because you want to be sure your complaint or allegation is on the record at the most senior level of the bank. Finally, be sure to keep any reply in a secure place – there is little as helpful as the banks own words over a period of time. Even if most replies you get say they have already dealt with your complaint and “we do not intend to correspond further” that can still be helpful. I have a pile of such replies – which all look rather silly and lacking in integrity (FSA Principle 1) now 10 people are being prosecuted with criminal charges in the HBOS Reading case.

  2. What to expect or not expect from the regulators. FSA (FCA) and FOS

    In the case of an individual complaint, the FSA (now FCA) http://www.fca.org.uk/ will almost certainly send a reply telling you they do not deal with individual cases. Nevertheless, send a very detailed explanation of your complaint to the FCA – as it may end up as a systemic issue which they later have to deal with. When sending your complaint to the FOS http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/ , be aware they are limited as to the compensation they can award (£150k) even if they do find for you. So an SME for example, which may have lost considerably more, cannot get a resolution through the FOS. All the same, it’s another box ticking exercise and I would advise you to tick them both.

  1. Document everything.

    Very important. Take notes on every conversation you have with people in the bank, the regulators, your MP and, if applicable, the police. If you have conversations with people who are giving you information or evidence relating to your case, send them your notes of the conversation and ask them to verify that you have your facts correct. Keep all your notes and correspondence safe and in order – you may need to refer to them years later and it’s not helpful to find you’ve destroyed or lost potentially critical evidence. This has been one of our best tools. People contradict themselves all the time and very often they completely forget they’ve said black is white and say it’s pink. We know what people said about HBOS Reading back in 2007/2008 because we wrote it down. Many of them don’t remember.

  1. If your complaint involves fraud or the possibility of criminal actions, try to identify other potential victims.

    Get in contact with them and pool your information. Then give your collective information to your MPs, the regulators, the police and authorities like the Treasury Select Committee. If you try and give your information individually, most of the authorities will tell you they cannot look at individual cases. It’s much harder for them to ignore you when you have evidence of many similar fact cases.

  1. Collect evidence and case law that will help you.

    If you do identify similar cases (even if they are not directly related to your case) collect case evidence and case law because, should you have to resort to the civil courts, which is a dangerous route, the bank will rely heavily on case law that’s beneficial to them and legal technicalities that may confuse you and manipulate the court. You may not be a lawyer (although you can still research case law yourself in Bailii http://www.bailii.org/) but if you can collect evidence from other victims of similar cases, it can help your case. And even if some judges (and certainly the banks barristers) will refuse to consider it on the grounds it is irrelevant to your case, it will still go on the record and in the transcript. So it’s worth saying out loud e.g “I have here 10 examples of similar practice from this bank supplied by other victims.” Almost certainly not court protocol but then neither is it court protocol to deliberately mislead a judge – and I have seen HBOS legal teams do this repeatedly.

  2. If you get to the stage where your MP is involved, copy him or her in on all your letters to the bank and the replies you get.

    Some MPs are real champions of the underdog but unfortunately, not all of them are happy to get involved with financial disputes against big banks. But if you are suffering from a genuine injustice, your MP has a duty to assist you http://www.ukpolitical.info/YouandyourMP.htm . So don’t ever let them make you feel you are a nuisance. And if they do, I suggest you copy every letter to and from your MP to third parties like the regulators or, if you feel you are being particularly badly treated, to the Prime Minister.

  1. Use the many tools available on the internet to collect additional evidence

    You can get details of companies and directorships on Companies House http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk//wcframe?name=accessCompanyInfo which can be very helpful but it does cost £1.00 per document and, in the case of a very big fraud, you may end up needing hundreds of documents you simply can’t afford. There are other sites that can give you the same equally valuable information, especially with regard to directorships, which, while they charge an annual fee, can work out cheaper. The best one we found back in 2011/12 was Creditsafe http://www2.creditsafeuk.com/ . But now you can get most of the information you need free from Dellam http://www.dellam.com/cgi-bin/main.pl or better still Duedil https://www.duedil.com/ You will still have to pay for company accounts etc but you will be able to see directorships, shareholders and debentures. If you’re prepared to put in the time going through the information on (e.g) Duedil, the paper trail you uncover can help show you the bigger picture.

  1. If you believe and have proof someone in the bank has committed an illegal act, report it immediately to your local police or to the fraud squad.

    In many cases the police will tell you your complaint or your allegations are a civil matter – we were told that in the HBOS Reading case where the Cambridge police would not investigate our allegations simply because the bank told them there was nothing to investigate. Stand your ground. Don’t take no for an answer. Write to the police giving a clear statement of the crime you believe has been committed and listing the evidence you have to support it. Copy your letter to your MP and the FSA. Ask for a crime number and remind the police they have sworn an oath to “… prevent all offences against people and property” http://srchtag.com/ex/vfc2nonclymg2yi.html .

  1. Dig in and adapt your living standards to suit your circumstances until you reach a resolution.

    It could take years to finally get a resolution or compensation from a bank and many banks believe their policy of ‘delay, deny, dilute’ will cause many complaints or allegations to simply disappear – which they do. People get old, get ill, cannot bear the stress, simply give up or in some cases they die. It’s an effective and immoral way for banks to minimise the cases against them. If you want to win, you need to have the right mind set and you must learn to live without things you are used to having and also learn to appreciate some things you have taken for granted. Make the most of every positive in your life however tiny. It’s the small positives which can keep you going in times of immense stress and even a bank can’t take them from you.

  1. Try and keep on top of everyday bills that could potentially cause you massive problems.

    If you find yourself running out of money because of what your bank has done (common problem) you still have to stay on top of daily issues or you will end up being the one in Court! One such example is Council tax. Make sure your local council know about your reduced circumstances and that they reduce your council tax accordingly. If you don’t, you could find bailiffs on your doorstep. Where you know you will have problems paying your creditors, try to keep them informed about what is happening. People can be amazingly accommodating, considerate and supportive, if they know you are suffering real injustice. Similarly, they can be very aggressive if they don’t know what you are going through and feel you are merely trying to take advantage of them.

    In the really unfortunate event your debts escalate to the point of bailiffs attending your property (which is so offensive to when you have to struggle so hard to get authorities to take action against financial crime) it’s really important you know your rights because some bailiffs will unfortunately misrepresent them to gain access to your home: http://www.advicenow.org.uk/advicenow-guides/consumer-and-money-problems/dealing-with-bailiffs/if-bailiffs-knock-on-your-door-html,620,FP.html Worse still, if for any reason (including the consequences of bank malpractice) your lender or land lord threatens to evict you, you must also know your rights. http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/eviction

  1. Contact your local press and give them the details of your case but be wary of approaching the national press unless you can forge a positive relationship with the journalists.

    Try and get your local press to cover your story. Give them regular updates and include issues of human interest especially if, as in our case, your situation with the bank results in eviction hearings or Court proceedings. But be very wary of approaching the national press.Good investigative journalists are few and far between whereas advertising budgets supported by banks and corporate bodies are ever more desirable to an industry that is plagued by modern technology which increasingly reduces its budgets. We know to our cost that some journalists who have had chapter and verse on the HBOS Reading story have gone on to write stories that were completely incorrect as to fact and have gone out of their way to make the victims look like the fraudsters.Having said that, we have also been lucky enough to come across some exceptional journalists who have been enormously supportive and fortunately, I would say now, in 2015 we are getting to the stage where more journalists are aware you are likely to be telling the truth about bank malpractice. All the same, when considering the main stream press, its a good idea to check out who is on the Board (past and present directors or non executive directors) of newspapers.

  1. Set up a blog site and put the details of your case and your allegations on it.

    Invite people with similar situations to get in contact with you. Be very careful however, not to publish your allegations or to defame people unless you are 101% sure you are right. While you cannot be accused of defamatory behaviour if what you publish is based on irrefutable proof, banks and individuals in banks or financial institutions, may well have legal teams capable of highlighting even the most minor flaw in your argument  that is capable of challenge. So be very careful what you write. Down the road, the bank or its lawyers could take your words and make them your worst enemy.

  2. Use social media to your advantage.

    One thing banks (or even Governments) didn’t factor in after the credit crunch was the phenomenal rise of social media. Use it to your maximum advantage. Get google alerts for the bank you’re complaining about; tweet the articles; look at the people who re-tweet you or who tweet on similar subjects. Add them to your followers on twitter or Facebook. Share information with them. Social media is maybe the most useful tools you have so make the most of it.

  1. Be very tolerant of your family or people who are living in stressful circumstances because of the situation the bank has put you in.

    If ever there is a time you will need your family, it’s when you are fighting a major battle with a bank or corporation with no morals and deep pockets. Even family turmoil is to their advantage as it will stop you focusing on the real battle and cause you immense distress. It’s easy to play the blame game and for families to be at each others throats when every thing goes wrong and you are all stressed. Don’t give banks that pleasure. Close ranks – stick together and think of your family as your army and your support. Sadly, if your battle goes on for years, you may find you lose a few friends along the way because people will get sick of hearing you repeatedly talking about your case. Also, you may no longer be able to afford to do the things you used to do with your friends (restaurants, holidays etc) so you may just drift apart. Even more reason to be very tolerant of your family. They can’t walk away and they are probably living through the nightmare with you.

  2. Don’t be arrogant – leave that to your opponents.

    Anger, outrage or encouragement and support from friends or family can sometimes make you feel you can publicise every tiny breakthrough as a major victory. Don’t go there. You won’t feel so arrogant when two years down the road you’re still struggling and the bank executives are still coining in the millions. It’s tough I know, but leave the arrogance to your opponents. If possible, encourage them to be arrogant in writing or better still to tell blatant lies in writing. Keep your powder dry and your day will come. Also, regardless of how angry you are, try to be dignified and professional in your dealings with the bank (even when they’re not). Banks love it when people come across as highly emotional and slightly erratic. We know of several very good cases where victims have been their own worst enemies and especially in court rooms where judges have little tolerance for unprofessional or aggressive behaviour. It gives credence to the idea you may be unreliable.

  1. Be wary of false promises or men baring gifts.

    Don’t think, because the bank, or the bank’s lawyers, or a regulator or anyone else gives the impression they are suddenly sympathetic to your cause, that you can afford to drop your guard. Nothing is over until it’s over but banks will try to placate you, albeit temporarily, if they have other pressing situations going on which you could, if you were aware of them, make worse. They tend to blow hot and cold according to their own situations but at the end of the day, the protection of their brand and the protection of those people highest up in the chain, is their primary interest. Contrary to what their code of conduct says, some banks are not at all interested in their clients – unless those clients either owe them billions of pounds or can implicate their senior executives in shady dealings.

  2. Be very wary of taking the legal route.

    One thing banks definitely have in their favour is their ability to pay vast sums of (shareholders) money for good legal brains. You, on the other hand, because of your circumstances and unless you go into battle as a multi millionaire (in which instance a bank would almost certainly give you more millions rather than challenge your allegations against them), will possibly be a litigant in person. So going to court against a bank is like being thrown into the lion’s den. Even if you can find a law firm to represent you on a CFA basis (conditional fee agreement) you will always play second fiddle to their paying clients and you really really need to be very careful when choosing your lawyers. Yes, there are good ones out there – but legal firms are not charitable organisations. If you run out of money, many of them run out of advice or sympathy simply because they are also businesses and need to pay their staff. Your catastrophe is yours, not theirs. So don’t expect morality to come into it because in most cases – it’s just business.

    Equally worrying is the new game on the block whereby third party funders will take your case forward because they can see you have a valid case which might bring about lucrative results – but buyer beware, by the time you have paid your legal fees and your third party funders, you could find yourself in a Jaundyce and Jaundyce situation – you fight for years and get nothing. This is why banks love the playing field of the court room. Even without the disturbing proposition that justice is very often in need of Spec Savers these days and some Judges seem ill advised if not illogical, banks know that the Court room is, in general, their play ground not yours – unless it is a criminal trial, But even then you must be wary.

    Having said that, we have won most of our 22 eviction hearings as litigants in person and in some of them we were up against the Vice Chairman of a huge London law firm as well as the banks barristers. So it can be done and we still have our home but we did have the advantage of bundles of evidence we had collected about events originating at HBOS Reading. Not many judges wanted to evict us until that was resolved – although one did.

  1. If you feel yourself becoming seriously depressed, get treatment.

    Remember that depression is a common complaint for whistle blowers or anyone taking on a bank or corporate. This is a subject I’ve heard discussed at length by well known whistle blowers and victims of Corporate fraud and I know many people who have suffered terribly from depression. There is no stigma to falling into depression when a bank has ruined your life – it’s actually very normal. So if you feel yourself going down that route, get help asap (and while we still have the NHS) http://www.depressionuk.org/national_links.shtml and, if you do have treatment, make sure the bank, your MP, your local council, your creditors and any regulators you are writing to, are aware of that treatment and why you are having it.

  1. Don’t give yourself time scales.

    The fact you have conclusive evidence of negligence, misrepresentation of even fraud, means surprisingly little to some banks. Whatever happens to you will not, sadly, stop the senior exec’s, getting their mega pay and bonuses. Therefore, they have no interest or concept of what you are going through but they do know, the longer you go though it, the more likely it is you will give up. However confident you are, never tell yourself this will be over in 3 months, 6 months, a year. We did and here we are 7 years later still going through it. Just keep going. If you are in the right and if you are resilient, then one day it will be over but only when you have worn the bank down as much as they’ve worn you down – or, if you’re really lucky, the authorities will make the bank resolve matters. That can take a while and you will only disappoint yourself and your family if you try to predict that time scale.

  2. Remind yourself on a daily basis that, whatever the bank says, you can win if you don’t give up.

    Most banks don’t have moral stamina, they just have money and lawyers and they change their lawyers as often as you change your socks. They also change their management, their policies and even their CEO’s on a regular basis. Sooner or later and if you are persistent, you may even come across a CEO who has heard of damage management. You never know and neither do I but it could happen and we live in hope?

  3. Weigh up your options.

    Really taking on a bank can take years out of your life which I know to my cost. Even if you win in the end and get some or all of the compensation you want, no one can give you those years back. In the case of Paul and I, we had no choice. The bank destroyed our business and, when we exposed the corruption behind this, they also tried to take our home. We had no option but to keep fighting. Neither would we give in to supposed resolutions that were, in effect, no more than bank housekeeping and of no advantage to us or any other victim of HBOS Reading. So we have kept fighting. That was our decision and one that we and our family have paid heavily for but which we wouldn’t change. We have been defrauded – we are in the right and we will never give up until we have won; or reached a consensual agreement; or, in the event that never happens, have fully exposed every detail of HBOS Reading that we have uncovered. That’s our choice but, for anyone starting out on such a battle, I would say, if you can, mediate, mediate, mediate. You may not get everything you want but never, ever feel guilty for compromising and for not taking our path if there’s a path that gives you and your family a resolution you can live with. You’ve only got the one life and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to spend years fighting mega wealthy and corrupt organisations.

  4. But if you are determined to win the fight be aware you really are involved in a David v Goliath battle and Goliath is a huge, mean and unprincipled giant!

    So on your darkest days, just remember, “the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” Tell yourself that over and over everyday and you will win.

If these pointer help even one person, then it has been worth publishing them. I really hope they do!

©Nikki Turner 2015

Bad Saturday – Twenty people with teacups can’t stop the flames of the next credit crunch.

Not a good start to a Saturday. First the post arrived and it was one letter with a barely legible hand written envelope to Mr P Turner – well done to our postman for deciphering the address. All the same we could see immediately who it came from because of the Royal Courts of Justice stamp on it. We were surprised because we don’t have a pending case in the Courts. What we do have is an indefinitely stayed case regarding our never ending eviction hearings. It’s stayed pending the outcome of the HBOS Reading trials which were due to start in January 2015, were moved to September 2015 and, a couple of weeks ago, were moved again to 2016.

For those reading this who don’t know anything about Paul and I, we have spent years investigating and exposing a major bank scandal. It took us from mid 2007 to September 2009 to get the regulator involved and then another year to get the police involved even although we reported it in December 2007. For our troubles, HBOS and then Lloyds Banking Group tried to evict us 20 times and on their last attempt a Circuit Judge allowed it and refused us permission to appeal. So our last hearing was the second of 2 in the High Court where we were asking for and then granted permission to appeal. That was in August 2010. However, by this time the police were involved and the first arrests in the case were in September 2010. So in December 2010 the Bank asked us to agree to an indefinite suspension of any eviction hearing on the grounds both we and they were witnesses in criminal proceedings – it wouldn’t do for witnesses to be fighting each other. That’s where we are – on hold until the criminal trials are over and God only knows when that will happen – although thinking about it, God probably doesn’t know either.

Anyway, the letter, or rather the form from the Courts this morning, informed us that our case is now closed and we have 14 days to retrieve our paper work or it will be destroyed.

This could mean one of two things: First, a clerk in the court, tasked with filing, has seen the date on our case and assumed it must be over, or sorted, or in any event not going ahead because it’s dated 2010. I might make that assumption myself in the same way I would have assumed the HBOS Reading trials would have been over 4+ years after people were arrested. And if this is the case, which I hope it is, we simply have to inform the Court our case is not over and is still active.

The second and darker scenario is that this is some form of legal trickery by the Bank to get the case out of the High Court and maybe back to a friendly Circuit Judge. I can’t see why the Bank would do this or how it would be advantageous to them when they could simply carry on waiting for the criminal case to start which could be never? But, while I repeatedly say (these days and as a founder of SME Alliance) that I firmly believe there are good banks and good bankers, sadly I don’t include Lloyds Banking Group or team Horta-Osorio in that bracket. And I am always waiting for their next malicious move.

You don’t hear much about HBOS these days although there was a small flurry of news when it was reported the FCA review into HBOS (like the HBOS Reading trials) has been delayed yet again – until after the election. Well there’s a surprise. But I don’t think this is because anyone in Government or in the FCA/PRA has forgotten about HBOS – we are constantly reminding them it remains unresolved. I think it’s still a priority – or at least burying what happened at HBOS is still a priority.

Which leads me on to the second disturbing thing about this Saturday morning. Included in our e-mails this morning were a couple from our friends at WBUK (whistle blowers) who wanted to share a video on Youtube. The video is of ‘The Spaniard’ interviewing a former employee of the FSA/FCA turned whistle blower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5c1FmVL8M

The whistle blower, who almost certainly isn’t called ‘Joanne’, says she worked in the financial sector for 15, 16 years and her last job was to help the FCA write mortgage policy so a financial crisis couldn’t happen again (so she was looking at what happened with sub prime) – I have no reason to doubt what she’s saying. She also says or confirms what a lot of us have felt for a very long time – the regulator is paid for and controlled by the banks.

This is not a revelation and I do remember a senior enforcement officer of the FSA telling Paul and I the FSA BoS Censure Report of March 2012 could have been published two years before it was but for Lloyds stopping it – which was a clear case of the tail wagging the dog.

Ridiculously maybe, even people like me who have battled long and hard with the FSA for 7+ years, still hope there is an element of good intention in the Regulator’s office and that ultimately, it will do what it says on the tin – i.e. regulate, control and, where necessary penalise the banks and bankers to stop them doing more damage to the economy and to society as a whole.

Some would say that is a very naïve view and one I have no excuse for holding but actually, it is essential we hold on to this hope because the alternative is too dark to consider. Which is why I found ‘Joanne’s’ words so depressing this morning. I am a member of WBUK and I know there is no glory to blowing the whistle. Whether you blow the whistle on the MoD, NHS or the financial sector, all you will get for your efforts is aggravation, alienation and sadly, in many cases, persecution leading to serious depression. So I think Joanne would have thought long and hard before she did this interview.

It’s quite hard to hear what she’s saying because it was a telephone interview so I’ve transcribed a couple of extracts:

“….it was all about making sure you work with the banks to protect the banks, not to protect the people. It’s definitely not independent – everything had to go back through the banks, even the wall to wall control by banks – it was absolutely astonishing. I was amazed at the amount of politics that was there and the fact that everything had to be referred back to – did it reflect well on the Government, did it reflect well on the banks – and that was the aim of everything.”

…. and in my opinion there were rules already in place that could have been used to prosecute banks and could have been used to hold somebody to account for what happened in the massive mortgage mis-selling scandals. But they weren’t because nobody had the will to. Because that’s not what we were there to do – we were there to give the impression that’s what we were doing but you weren’t actually supposed to do it.”

I would have transcribed more but it’s too depressing – maybe I will tomorrow. In short, what Joanne is saying is, all the harsh words from politicians, from the Treasury, from the regulators about how bad our banks are and what is being done to reform them, are no more than lip service put regularly in the public arena to deceive us. In reality the banks have been and are still holding all the cards and pulling all the strings. When you go to the regulator with a serious complaint, you are really sharing information with the banks and they will decide how it is dealt with. If Joanne is right in her allegations then Paul and I have furnished the Bank with 35,000 pieces of evidence about HBOS Reading. Not very clever of us.

Back to this morning’s post and Mr HO. I have no faith or trust that the HBOS Reading trials will ever go ahead – I hope I’m wrong but considering Joanne’s words, it seems unlikely the establishment would allow such a controversial story to come out. Similarly the FCA report into HBOS. If regulation is all about protecting banks and not the people, HBOS is a hot potato that at all costs must be mashed to a pulp and then smothered in a gluttonous gravy that makes it impossible to recognise let alone swallow.

While Ian Fraser’s brilliant book ‘Shredded’ (which I would advise everyone to read) exposed the horrendous goings on at RBS, there has been no major criminal case involving RBS bankers which would put Ian’s research in the spotlight and directly in full view of the Court of Public Opinion. Not so HBOS – we’re waiting for a major criminal trial to proceed and a major FCA review to be published. Additionally, there is at least one book taking a very candid look at HBOS waiting to come out and that is over and above the fact no one can doubt, after his years of blogging and articles, Ian Fraser is a font of knowledge about HBOS as well as RBS. Of course all concerned will abide by the rules of sub judice until the criminal trials are over but none of this will fit the criteria of “ did it reflect well on the Government, did it reflect well on the banks” Clearly not. So will the authorities ever allow HBOS to be fully exposed? Probably not.

And if that is the case, the only other place where much of the truth about the staggering misconduct in HBOS would come out, is in a High Court case when and if the Bank decide to re open our eviction hearings – although actually the stayed appeal is our case and we could also reopen it. Our defence in the eviction hearing is entirely based on what happened at HBOS Reading and the conduct of the management of HBOS and Lloyds after Reading was exposed.

So maybe the logic of the Bank and its high powered lawyers is to get our case out of the High Court where it could be as damaging as the criminal trials themselves? Or maybe our post this morning really was a case of a clerk having a tidy up? Who knows? Either way, Paul and I have learned a lot over the last 8 years and we will not be ignoring the Court letter.

I really, really hope that one day soon, someone, somewhere in authority, will decide enough is enough and bring about even a minor change of policy that starts reflecting the interests of the Country and its people over the interests of the Banks. I don’t think that someone will be David Cameron or George Osborne or Ed Miliband. All of this “first and foremost protect the banks” policy, started under New Labour and has progressed under the Conservatives. Sure, there are some really good cross party MPs or even Conservative or Labour MPs – but one swallow doesn’t make a summer and even a really good MP – my friend Clive May’s MP, David Hanson, is a very good example as is Brian Little’s MP, Jim Shannon – can’t change policy on his own.

Maybe Mark Carney who has said “no one is above the law”is the man for the job? And someone told me a while back that John Griffith-Jones is actually one of the good guys and I should talk to him – I would certainly like to and I would like to ask him for his comments on what Joanne has said. I would be so happy to see concrete evidence that actually the FCA considers “consumer protection” and “the reduction of financial crime” of equal importance to “market confidence.” But Joanne’s words make that hard to believe. Especially her comment when she was asked – if Wembley Stadium going up in flames equalled the credit crunch, how many fire engines would she say the FSA used to put the fire out? Her answer was:

….“there was probably a line of twenty people with teacups.”

That is very scary and we should all be aware the only outcome of this situation continuing is the next fire won’t be contained to a stadium.

Many thanks to both the Spaniard at White Rabbit Education and ‘Joanne’, for bringing this insight (or is it incite?) to our attention.