Tag Archives: TSC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24th July 2017

 

What a week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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/

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

Christmas 2014 round up of financial crimes with no one going to jail.

My husband made a very valid point a few days ago and I have been thinking about it every day since. He pointed out that when we (Paul and I) started looking at misconduct in the financial industry and specifically HBOS, we couldn’t get anyone to take our allegations seriously because no one believed us. That was in 2007 and it took until late 2009 to actually get the FSA involved and 2010 before the police got involved – even although we made allegations to the police in November 2007. We’re not a lot further forward now in December 2014 because the criminal trials for that alleged crime won’t start until September 2015 – and even then, I’m not holding my breath.

It was disappointing no one believed us in 2007 but not surprising because the idea banks, or rather bankers, might be crooks, was out of the question back then. Bankers were seen as respectable professionals and your bank manager was so trustworthy, he or she could even sign your passport. The same doesn’t apply now and no one bats an eyelid at the concept of crooked bankers – in fact bad conduct is what we expect from them, to the point even the good guys (yes I do acknowledge there are still many good bankers our there) are tarred with the same brush.

Paul’s point was simple: It was tough back in 2007 because no one believed us, so nothing was done. Now, everyone knows the financial sector is rife with fraud and corruption and still nothing has been done! Not just in the case we reported – right across the board and in thousands of cases. Even more alarming is the fact that, in many instances I know of, where people have tried to report financial crime, the police will not investigate it! In all probability this is because they don’t have the budgets to investigate such a glut of criminality in austerity Britain – but that is of no help to the victims who are frequently told – “it’s a civil matter.” No it’s not – crime is never a ‘civil matter’ and even victims of PPI have a right to report it as a crime, get a crime number and, if applicable, also have it investigated. Of course that might damage crime statistics.

But no. Most financial crime is just swept under the carpet as “mis-selling” or “restructuring” and resolved by bank shareholders’ paying huge fines to the FCA. Think about that for a moment – we all believe bankers have committed criminal acts but nothing has happened. It just beggars belief and is really as scary as hell because, what it actually means is, we can no longer rely on the Law and really do have a two tier criminal justice system. There isn’t another, plausible explanation.

This terrifying thought was brought home again when I read the latest excellent Matt Taibbi article in Rolling Stone magazine: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-police-in-america-are-becoming-illegitimate-20141205 where he is talking about the disparities in the US legal system and it reminded me that I still haven’t had a reply to my letter to Mr Cameron of December 2012 when I asked for some clarification about the apparent immunity bankers have from prosecution. In that letter, which I wrote after reading some worrying comments from Andrew Bailey (now head of the PRA), I said:

Mr Cameron, unless I am completely mistaken, Mr Bailey seems to be telling us that banks, and therefore bankers, are now officially considered to be above the law in this country and that, in the interests of confidence in the banking industry (which is already at rock bottom among the British public, and therefore can hardly sink any lower), they cannot be prosecuted.

I am writing to ask you, as Prime Minister, for some clarification.

Does your government endorse the notion that banks and bankers should be given a licence to commit criminal acts without any fear of prosecution? Is this now official government policy? Are the British public now being asked to accept that, despite incontrovertible evidence of multiple criminal acts by banks, including money-laundering, drug-money-laundering, Libor rigging, multiple frauds and assorted Ponzi schemes, bankers are considered to be immune from prosecution? And if so, can I ask on what grounds your government, or indeed the government of any democratic country, can justify such a policy?” Full letter here: http://www.ianfraser.org/dear-mr-cameron-if-bankers-are-above-the-law-we-need-an-urgent-explanation/

I didn’t write the letter to be confrontational – although I must admit I am incredibly disappointed the PM’s strong words in the run up to the last election about what should happen to criminal bankers, turned out to be hot air and no more. This is what he said to Jeff Randall in January 2009:

“I think that we need to look at the behaviour of banks and bankers and, where people have behaved inappropriately, that needs to be identified and if anyone has behaved criminally, in my view, there is a role for the criminal law and I don’t understand why is this country the regulatory authorities seem to be doing so little to investigate it, whereas in America they’re doing quite a lot.”

I wrote the letter because I genuinely wanted some reassurance from the Prime Minister that bankers are not above the law; we don’t have a two tier legal system and; something would be done to redress this inequitable situation.

So what has happened to clarify or allay my concerns since December 2012? Well a few things have happened but not what I was expecting. For example:

  1. I’ve never had a reply.

  2. Several banks have been found guilty of money laundering and even money laundering for drug cartels. And the only penalty has been a huge tax on the bank’s shareholders who have paid massive fines for the conduct of bankers. But no one has gone to jail.

*given that banks (buildings or legal entities) don’t have any physical ability to pick up the phone and negotiate with drug cartels – such deals had to be done by bankers. So why have no bankers been held responsible?

  1. Many banks have been found guilty of making billions of pounds with the PPI scam. They’ve had to pay the money back in many cases but, I assure you, not all cases. So again, the shareholders have lost a fortune. But no one has gone to jail.

* I often wonder who invented PPI? Did senior bankers sit down and plan how best to get thousands of their customers to take out insurance policies which cost them a fortune but could never be used? Or did someone in a bank find a recipe for creating and implementing PPI in a fortune cookie?

  1. As a founder member of SME Alliance, I talk every day to people whose businesses have been totally destroyed with various, ridiculously (and I would suggest deliberately) complicated financial products under the collective name of swaps. I’m not a victim of a swap and I know little about them (I’m learning fast) but even their titles smack of more contempt for businesses e.g. vanilla swaps. Can you have chocolate or strawberry? Probably. The FCA have said many of these products should never have been sold to ‘unsophisticated’ clients and in some cases banks have had to give the money back. However, the years it has taken for this to happen and the devastation these products have caused, apparently do not necessitate banks having to pay out billions in compensation. The redress scheme the FCA has come up with has conveniently been limited to peanuts – and no one has gone to jail.

* A journalist was telling me the other day of a case where someone challenged the FCA decision multiple times and was eventually awarded £500k – but of course the bank interest and charges on his account over the time it took to challenge the bank’s conduct meant the victim got nothing and the bank paid themselves £500k. You couldn’t make it up.

  1. The now infamous business recovery units like RBS/GRG have been merrily acquiring, appropriating, stealing their clients’ assets left right and centre and sadly RBS have not been working in isolation. It has caused outrage – it’s been all over the news, MPs have held debates on the subject, Committees have interviewed senior bankers and regulators and even the ever cautious BBC have suggested some bankers are crooks. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t6jy1 But no one has gone to jail.

* As a victim of HBOS Reading (similar model) I have so much to say on this – but am having to keep quiet for now but not forever.

  1. And while the likes of GRG and HBOS Reading have caused many businesses to fail, a separate scandal has specifically targeted farms across the Country for over 20 years. Repeated allegations have been made against a man called Des Phillips and various of the 59 companies he has been or is a director of including UK Farm Finance, UKCC and UK Acorn Finance. And some of our major banks have been heavily implicated in these allegations as have other ‘professionals’. It’s a sickening story which has resulted in many family farms being repossessed and, sadly, farmers committing suicide. You can hear about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040hzz5 or read about here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141111/halltext/141111h0001.htm No one has been prosecuted so no one has gone to jail.

  2. Bankers or traders have been found guilty of rigging LIBOR. Again, massive fines have been levied – another penalty on shareholders. However, in this instance it looks possible some bankers will go to jail and one banker has even pleaded guilty. But let’s not get too excited that justice might be done. Read this: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/oct/07/banker-pleads-guilty-libor-rigging-rate-fixing

As you can see the banker concerned could get up to 10 years in jail but we don’t know who he is or what bank he worked for and reporting on this case is heavily restricted. Presumably, after the other three people charged have had their trials, we might know more. But I wouldn’t bet money on it – especially if the banker in question worked for one of the State subsidised banks. But it’s a start.

I could make the list much longer but, to date and looking at the 6 instances above, money laundering, PPI, Swaps, asset theft including farms and LIBOR rigging, it’s certain 1 person in the UK will go to jail and 4 people might. And when you look at the trail of poverty, misery, desperation and devastation these crimes have caused, it is unbelievably disappointing – not to mention scandalous, that our regulators, justice system and worse still, our Government, have let this happen. In fact it is morally and ethically reprehensible.

Of course individual bankers do go to jail quite regularly – they’re usually quite low down in the pecking order and their offences (with a few noticeable exceptions) just about make it into their local newspapers. But the top dogs – the ones who make policy – the ones who instigate and oversee the kind of conduct which allowed all of the above to happen, seem to remain above the law. Which begs the question – why do we have laws?

Meanwhile, the Government have issued the following figures regarding crimes to businesses:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/284818/crime-against-businesses-headlines-2013-pdf.pdf

I haven’t read it in any great detail but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mention the wholesale destruction of SMEs by banks. I sometimes think we should move the Houses of Parliament to Canary Wharf and have done with it before La La Land spreads across the whole of London.

Here in the real world we are in the run up to what will be another very austere festive season for many people in Britain – and I’m not just talking about people or SMEs who have been defrauded by banks. I’m talking about those families who’ve lost jobs and/or benefits and most of all, those people relying on food banks or who have lost their homes and now live on the street. A lot of people would say – me included – our major banks and therefore our most senior bankers, were very instrumental in causing our national austerity. And, post the so called Credit Crunch, those same banks (especially the part State owned ones) have done little to help the economy and much to damage it further. Unbelievably, the people at the top of those banks continue to be heavily rewarded.

For example, yesterday (13th December) I was reading an article about the top paid European Bank CEO’s. http://www.cityam.com/1415705309/which-ceos-european-bank-have-biggest-pay-checks-two-uk-banks-take-second-and-third-place

Hmmm – £7.4M. Even when you deduct 50% tax, that still leaves approximately £71k a week. I think you could have one hell of a Christmas with that remuneration package!

Mind you, every silver lining has its own cloud and I suddenly thought – I bet it’s really tough finding the perfect Christmas gift for these top bankers because, what do you buy for the man or woman who has everything? So maybe La La Land has its own problems at Christmas.

Shame you can’t gift wrap integrity – if we could give some of them that, the whole Country might feel more festive. Still, there’s always the good old standby gift – Monopoly. After all, banks have bought, sold, packaged and mortgaged every property on the board many, many times over – but, to date, they have been very adept at steering clear of the “Go to Jail” square. But then I’m guessing Al Capone thought he would never lose ‘games’ either.

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

Did the Bank Wreck My Business? Yes – so what happens now?

I’m pretty sure the ratings for the excellent Panorama programme, ‘Did The Bank Wreck My Business’, were very high last Monday. Certainly most people I know watched it – but then many of them have direct experience of banking abuse at the hands of RBS or Lloyds – so they would. In fact most of them were interviewed by Andy Verity and Jon Coffey although their stories weren’t used in the programme. Some would say (and I would agree) there are many more horrific stories out there that the production team could have used – but it’s not a competition. Every business annihilated by bank misconduct (known to many as fraud), is a tragedy. And, given the Beeb’s generally conservative, establishment stance, I think it’s nothing short of a miracle this programme was as frank and exposing as it was.

As always, when programmes like this are on, I took some notes. I do it mostly to collect quotes for my book (nothing quite like “from the horses mouth”quotes to make points) but I also do it because I’m so staggered at what some people in the banking world say, it has to be captured in black and white for posterity. One day future generations will surely look back and ask “how the hell (being polite there) did a democratic country let that happen?”

I know the transcript of the programme will be available soon (or I hope it will) but here’s some of my favourite quotes from last night:

Jon Pain (RBS) “The whole purpose of GRG is to help customers return to financial health…..”

Vince Cable (BIS) “Well of course I’m very alarmed because good companies appear to have been put at risk or in some cases destroyed by banks behaviour…..”

Stephen Pegge (Lloyds) “our goal is to support businesses (you know) small and medium sized businesses are really important to us….”

Jon Pain (RBS) “(But) I would in no shape or form condone any inappropriate behaviour by anybody acting on behalf of RBS – that’s not part of our agenda in supporting customers.”

Christ Sullivan (RBS) to Andrew Tyrie re GRG “It is absolutely not a profit centre!”

Ross Finch (Lloyds victims) re his meeting with an exec of Cerberus who Lloyds sold his loan to “When I expressed disbelief about their behaviour, um, he said, “what you’ve got to understand is I am a prick” – which I couldn’t believe he would say such a thing!”

I’ve just pulled out those quotes because they are either so absurd or so shocking– and they’ve been broadcast on the BBC, the bastion of British correctness. If even the Beeb is exposing RBS and Lloyds as a bunch of crooks, what can we say? Nine years on from the so called Credit Crunch and where are we? I would say, if anything, we’re walking backwards. As one of the founder members of SME Alliance and a member of Whistleblowers UK ( Paul and I blew the whistle on HBOS Reading – the HBOS equivalent of GRG), I hear horror stories about banks v SMEs every single day. But the exposure of banking atrocities is no longer limited to what banks like to portray as ‘the niche market of poorly performing SMEs’. Everyone knows how bad some of our banks are and Andy Verity’s programme should be one of the final nails in the coffin of bad banking.

But will it be? Big question:

Vince Cable, Andrew Tyrie, the Treasury Select Committee, the FCA, the PRA, Mark Carney, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg – did you watch “Did The Bank Wreck My Business’? And if you did – what are you going to do about it? They certainly didn’t wreck your businesses so I understand that maybe you don’t understand the consequences of what banks do. However, I do and so do thousands of SME owners, employee’s, shareholders and creditors. We live with the consequences.

I also know Andy Verity and Jon Coffey have done extensive research to make this programme and could have used any number of totally outrageous cases because they interviewed loads of SME owners (or ex SME owners) – and I know some of those stories may have been a step too far for the Beeb. In my own case sub judice was a big problem. But I know they made the programme in the spirit of stopping banks abusing SMEs. So has it worked? Has it helped? Will anything change?

Well the Panorama team have done their bit. David, Ed, Nick, Andrew, Mark – over to you. You are the people who can make the banks behave – or at least you should be. If the reality is you’re not – then wow, we have a serious problem in our democracy.

Best quote of the programme, without doubt, has to be Austin Mitchell MP, talking in Parliament about the Keith Ross case and saying it how it really is:

“What I want to do today is tell the story of the theft of a profitable Yorkshire company and I don’t mean the criminal Mafia we often speak of I mean Britain’s dark suited Mafia which in this case is represented by Lloyd Bank and Price Waterhouse Cooper both acting in collusion….”

Here’s the link from Hansard to Keith Elliot’s case: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2013-11-12a.212.0

Of course, living in Italy for nearly 20 years, Austin’s comments would strike a chord with me. Well said Austin – there’s not many MP’s who would draw Parliament’s attention to the similarities between the banks and the Mafia but I would just put you straight on one thing – our dark suited Mafiosi are, in many cases, criminal.

I’m posting this on my own blog site because this is my own view – but I believe many people in SME Alliance will appreciate this view and I have to give us a plug because the conduct exposed in the programme is one of the reasons SME Alliance was formed.

#SME Alliance – giving SMEs a voice. #nooneisabovethelaw

Mark Carney says #nooneisabovethelaw now we need to work on #whocanaffordthelaw?

On 24th September 30 people travelled from all over the Country to attend the first meeting of SMEalliance in the Old Council Chamber at the Law Society. It could have been double that number but, having asked our hosts, Rustem Guardian, for a room for 12 people, then 25 people, then 30 people, I felt it would have been rather rude to continually increase the numbers!  All the same we ended up with about 35 people. Rustem Guardian did us proud and we are enormously grateful to them for giving us such a fitting venue for our first meeting.

I say fitting because one of the key phrases that came out of the meeting was this:

“no one is above the law.”

Of course most people at the meeting were brought together because, as SME owners are very well aware, some people do seem to be above the law – which is, in part, the reason why so many SMEs are struggling and continue to be abused and especially (but by no means exclusively) by the financial sector. But the reality is  – and we need to remember it – in a working democracy, no one is above the law.

I raised this subject at the meeting because of a letter Paul and I received, dated 1st September 2014,  (1 day before SMEalliance was born) on behalf of Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. We wrote to Mr Carney on 31st July 2014 and that is our first letter to him although we were in regular contact with Lord King from 2010 and he always replied, usually in person and with his private seal. Mervyn King (as he was in 2010) had asked to be kept fully informed of the progress of investigations into HBOS (ongoing) and I don’t make the point to infer we are buddies of Lord King’s,  I make it because by writing to him and getting replies, we were sure the BoE had critical information about malpractice in HBOS. So we were keen to make sure Mark Carney was similarly well informed. I can’t publish most of our letter or the reply for reasons of sub judice but I can publish this point we raised with the Governor:

Mr Carney, even as music publishers (there’s been little music publishing and lots of fraud investigation over the last 7 years), we understand the need to maintain international confidence in the City of London and our financial sector. But it would seem the attempts to indemnify bankers from crime in order to maintain that confidence, has resulted in the City becoming the ‘Wild West’ of the financial world. By not holding bankers to account individually when they break the law, we now have a situation whereby the banks feel their immunity to prosecution is a licence to further break the law. And they do so in the knowledge that, worst case scenario, their shareholders will pay huge fines while those bankers responsible for the good management and reputation of the banks, continue to get huge pay packets, bonuses and pension pots. Under such a scheme, where is the incentive for bankers to behave lawfully, morally and ethically?

The reply to this on behalf of the Governor was (I’ve redacted specific’s):

Your letter also notes a concern that regulators have not acted to penalise relevant individuals in relation to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and that bankers are somehow above the law and able to avoid prosecution. This is a view very much not shared by the Bank of England. As the Governors recent letter to Lord Blackwell made clear there is absolutely no doubt that bankers who are guilty of misconduct should face the regulatory and / or criminal consequences of their actions. No one is above the law.

I haven’t published that to annoy the Governor of the Bank of England by sharing private correspondence. On the contrary I’ve published it to make the point that in the “them v us” scenario many SME owners feel exists between businesses and the establishment,  we have a lot of shared views. And I may be very naive but I was actually delighted to read the headline in the Huff Post today:  Mark Carney Tears Into Bad Bankers For ‘Getting Away With It’

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/13/mark-carney-bankers-banking_n_5975494.html

I am not saying our letter to the Governor made an impact but, on the other hand, maybe he is aware of the bad conduct of banks towards SMEs – maybe we can get our message across to people like Mark Carney and maybe now if the time to resolve a “failure to communicate” situation that has existed for far too long. I really hope we can remedy that with SMEalliance. We can open a real dialogue with people who can help us get change – and this time, the message won’t be from people paid to represent us – it will be SMEs representing SMEs.

I feel hugely encouraged by the immediate response and support for SMEalliance – it really feels as if a fuse has been lit and an immediate network of like minded people have joined forces. We need to build and build our numbers so our voice gets louder. And then we can collectively make sure influential people like Mark Carney  or politicians know exactly how we feel, what our problems are and what changes we want to see – straight from the horses mouth. Starting maybe with the statement from the Governor’s office:

No one is above the law.

If even the Governor of the Bank of England is agreed on this principle. maybe we could start dealing with the one thing that hinders it:

But most people can’t afford the law.

That’s a huge problem but let’s not run before we can walk. If we can be sure the authorities will support  “no one is above the law” that would already go a long way to helping SMEs. So that when we report misconduct, fraud, misrepresentation, sharp practice or other issues that damage SMEs to the regulators, the police, MPs – we could do so with the confidence the law will protect us.

Last thing – you don’t have to have a problem to join SMEalliance. Aside from trying to raise important issues at a political level and have a huge voice, it is a huge opportunity to network, share information or idea’s and cross reference facts that will also alert others to potential pitfalls. And for those who do have a problem, it will also hopefully provide a support network.  I saw all of this go into action straight away when everyone at the meeting adjourned to the pub and it was evident the knowledge and experience people were willing to share was phenomenal.

Please visit our website http://www.smealliance.org and if like us you think SMEs, which are the absolute backbone of the economy, should have a better deal and a bigger voice, please join us. Our next meeting is 6th November at the Winford Manor Hotel in Bristol.

 

 

 

 

Update re: meeting of SMEalliance 24th September 2014

09/09/14

Many thanks for the replies. As I’ve been in Oxford all day (but I live in Cambridge) I haven’t had time to respond – but I will. What is going on in this Country – we have major road works on our busiest roads in rush hour traffic? And then they open the roads at night when there’s hardly any traffic? So just over 2 hours to get back from Oxford but 3&1/2 to get there! Bonkers.

Rant over – As we still have to book the venue, it would be really good if anyone else wanting to come on 24th September could reply by 11.00am tomorrow so I can pass the definitive numbers on to Jon Welsby who is finding the best place.

Thanks also to those who can’t attend but want to support SMEalliance. Crazy to think all this started just a week ago! I wonder where we’ll be in a month? I’m really looking forward to meeting you all. And I would just add – after the meeting I had today with a really lovely farmer and his family, who have been totally abused by banks, the quicker we get a voice and some muscle, the better!!

Best

Nikki

From the replies received it seems that Wednesday 24th September is the best date for the 1st meeting of SMEalliance. So that’s it – we have a date. It’s been suggested the meeting should take place at 1.00pm because some people have a considerable distance to travel – and no one wants to by peak time rail tickets if they can avoid it.

What we can’t confirm as yet, is the venue – because we don’t know how many people want to attend? We have a list of 8 people who will definitely be coming but because last week was so hectic, I haven’t had a chance to confirm the names of many others who have expressed an interest to be involved. Until we know the numbers, we can’t confirm the venue. Jon Welsby has suggested a couple of venues he can get but they can only accommodate 10 – 12 people at max. I am sure we can find a bigger venue if more people want to come and our priority now is to confirm the numbers.

I have set up a specific e-mail address for people to confirm their attendance:

smealliance2014@gmail.com

Alternatively you can confirm by commenting on this blog.

Please let me know (if possible by Wednesday morning) if you would like to come. I am in Oxford all day tomorrow but would really like to be able to work on this Wednesday. Once we have that info I can e-mail all participants with a venue and an agenda (of sorts). Please bear in mind – this is a fledgling initiative at the moment and the purpose of the meeting is to make a plan for the future and create a strong group that will have a voice. I am not necessarily leading the group as the meeting may produce someone better suited to the job. But I am more than happy to help get us to that stage.

It would also be very helpful to receive an e-mail from anyone who isn’t in a position to come on the 24th but still wants to support #smealliance and receive regular update. Please make it very clear on e-mails on in comments – I WANT TO ATTEND ON THE 24th SEPTEMBER or I WANT TO SUPPORT SMEalliance AND RECEIVE UPDATES. At this stage the only info we need is the confirmation, a name, e-mail address (which we’ll obviously have), a twitter name (if you tweet) and a phone number if you want to give it – not obligatory.

Next blog on Wednesday or Thursday – hopefully with a venue and an agenda for the 1st meeting. Obviously the agenda will only go to those who are attending the meeting or want to support. Oh – and any bankers signing up to get inside information – we would be very happy for you to attend and speak to us!

Look forward to hearing from everyone.

Best

Nikki

 

Bank reform or tokenism? Rule No 1. “Don’t ever side with anybody against the family”.

I don’t particularly like August. It doesn’t mean holiday time for my family – it just means a month when Paul and I can make little progress towards ever having a holiday because everyone to do with the HBOS scam we’re determined to see exposed, is on holiday. Still, this year August has at least given me some quiet time to continue with my book, which is going well. I can even say I’m enjoying writing it now even although it is taking me back over some very dark times including 22 eviction hearings because, for HBOS/LBG, screwing my business wasn’t enough and they wanted my home as well.

I’ve put as much humour as possible into the book because, as in the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ story, I can see that what people really enjoy knowing about, is the excesses and madness of the banking world. They want to be entertained and disgusted at the same time – which is maybe why the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is a rather one sided story or ‘romp’ that focused entirely on events in ‘La La Land’ but totally ignored the effects banking or bankers have had on the rest of the world. All the same, the film was entertaining and, let’s face it, some of us might give bankers a bit more latitude if they looked like Leonardo de Caprio. But it also made me worry and contrary to what I have previously considered possible, I’m beginning to think maybe bankers are indeed starting to achieve Mafia status? We can’t control what they do but we can make great films about them. Well, if that’s the way we’re going, let’s do it – I have just the script. Although casting could be a bit of an issue with our Britbank villains.

However, there is one overwhelmingly depressing thing that really pains me while I’m writing the book about my own experience with banks and bankers – over the last 7 years and despite bucket loads of rhetoric from Governments, regulators and the endless committees who have, apparently, investigated the causes of the ‘credit crunch’, nothing has changed. Nothing at all. And that’s bad.

I have this horrible gut feeling that, while everyone, including bankers, insist that what we all want is a better banking system devoid of excessive risk, dodgy derivatives and dubious standards, actually, what the banking world really want is to carry on with “business as usual.” In reality, what’s happening now is an even bigger whitewash than all those we’ve already had. While the headlines insist bankers are about to get their comeuppance and even the SFO are threatening to investigate bank malpractice, behind the scenes and very casually, the right people are being put into the right places to make sure the cracks in the walls get a new round of sticky plaster. The ‘revolving door’ is quietly turning again. But moving the chairs around on the Titanic, didn’t do any good after the last credit crunch and moving the same chairs again, won’t stop another crash. Yet again, we have senior bankers acting as regulators – it doesn’t work.

For example, looking back many people, including me, would say HBOS, in the years running up to the credit crunch, became an absolute basket case of a bank. With hindsight even PCoBS, the TSC and the Regulator, would have to agree. Point 137 (page 44) from the PCoBS report into HBOS (HBOS – An Accident Waiting To Happen. April 2013) concludes under the heading of “Conclusion – a manual for bad banking”:

The downfall of HBOS provides a cautionary tale. In many ways, the history of HBOS provides a manual of bad banking which should be read alongside accounts of previous bank failures for the future leaders of banks, and their future regulators, who think they know better or that next time it will be different. We will ourselves seek to draw further lessons from the case of HBOS as we frame recommendations for the future in our final Report. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201213/jtselect/jtpcbs/144/144.pdf

You can take your pick of damning extracts from the FSA Bank of Scotland Public Censure Report (March 2012) but I think point 4.14 explains a lot about the seemingly star struck Exec’s of BoS and their ‘risky’ management:

In relation to large leveraged transactions, these deals involved lending over £75 million or a substantial equity investment which meant they had to be sanctioned by the Executive Credit Committee. There was a significant increase in the volume and complexity of deals that this committee approved during 2006 and 2007. There were 199 approvals of lending in excess of £75 million in 2006 (which represented total

lending of £56 billion), which increased to 361 such approvals in 2007 (which represented total lending of £96.2 billion). There were 56 approvals of lending over £250 million in 2006 (which represented total lending of £36.2 billion), which increased to 110 such approvals in 2007 (which represented total lending of £64 billion. The size of these transactions meant that any default would have a high impact on the book http://www.fsa.gov.uk/static/pubs/final/bankofscotlandplc.pdf

I’m interested in that extract because it confirms how the excessive loans to companies like Corporate Jet Services Ltd http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-the-cameron-crony-the-private-jet-company-and-a-crash-landing-that-cost-taxpayers-100m-9350090.html had to have been authorised by very senior people in the Bank and not, as LBG would have us believe, by a regional bank manager. But in truth, it wasn’t just BoS that was running amok – it was the whole of HBOS. But the FSA didn’t censor HBOS and maybe because the CEO of HBOS held a senior position in the FSA ?

I remember having a conversation with Bill Sillett (the named respondent for any queries about the Censure Report) who visited Paul and I in April 2012. I asked him back then why the Report only covered the period from 2006 to 2008 when I know for a fact HBOS was acting like a fruit loop from at least 2002. Here’s his reply, taken from my notes of the meeting 11th April 2012:

BS spoke briefly about the time scales of the FSA report and why they chose the period 2006 to 2008. He said Crosby was effectively out of the bank in that period. He said they chose that narrow remit because going back further could have involved another year of work.

I think “Crosby was effectively out of the Bank in that period” is highly significant. Obviously, had the report highlighted poor management of BoS when Crosby was the CEO of HBOS (parent of BoS), it would have caused a few red faces for the FSA. But what I still find amazing is – Mr Crosby may have come out of the Bank in 2006 but, from November 2007, he went from being a Director of the FSA to Deputy Chairman – and that was in the same period when HBOS was already under heavy scrutiny by the Bank of England. And even when the proverbial hit the fan in October 2008 and HBOS got the secret £25.4BN, apparently no one in the Tripartite Authority felt it was inappropriate for Sir James, as he was then, to continue on as the Deputy Chair of the Authority most responsible for regulating banks!

I make the point in my book:

Aside from the fact the people advising the Bank of England on how to cope with various banks losing hundreds of billions of pounds were predominantly bankers (from commercial banks), I’m very confused by the fact Gordon’s chum, Sir James Crosby (now plain old Mr Crosby), the former CEO of HBOS until mid 2006, managed to retain his position of Deputy Chairman of the FSA right through the credit crunch, the bailouts and beyond? Did Gordon Brown realise the FSA were supposed to monitor the Banks so that such disasters couldn’t happen? Had he even heard of the FSA I wonder? (NEXT PASSAGE REDACTED)……..

…..So why did JC keep his position with the regulator? Possibly it was so his friends in high places, like Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, who appointed him to oversee Government projects, wouldn’t get egg on their faces. In 2006 Gordon appointed JC to lead a ‘Public, Private Forum’ on Identity theft and in April 2008 Alistair Darling appointed him to advise the Government on how to “improve the functioning of the mortgage markets.” And then, of course, there was his knighthood in July 2006 for services to the financial industry.

Oh well, water under the bridge now and Sir James did eventually resign from the FSA in February 2009 when the allegations made by Paul Moore in 2004, could no longer be ignored. Although according to both the FSA and James Crosby, his departure was nothing to do with Paul Moore. Here’s a statement from La La land, as reported by the BBC 11th February 2009:

Sir James said in his statement that HBOS had “extensively investigated” Mr Moore’s allegations, concluding that they “had no merit”. Mr Moore was the former head of risk at HBOS.

“I nonetheless feel that the right course of action for the FSA is for me to resign from the FSA board, which I do with immediate effect,” Sir James added.

The FSA said: “[The] specific allegations made by Paul Moore in December 2004 regarding the regulatory risk function at HBOS were fully investigated by KPMG and the FSA, which concluded that the changes made by HBOS were appropriate.”

“It should also be noted that the FSA’s concerns about HBOS’ risk management framework considerably pre-dated the allegations by Mr Moore,” the FSA said in a statement.

Excuse me? The FSA’s concerns about HBOS pre-dated Paul Moore’s allegations and – what did they do about it? They made the CEO of HBOS a Director of the FSA in January 2004 and then promoted him to Deputy Chair. Confused – you should be.

Here’s the point – as at today’s date, the Chairman of the FCA, which took over from the FSA, is now John Griffith-Jones, who held the position of Chairman of KPMG at the time Mr Moore made his allegations and who must have sanctioned the report refuting those allegations. And, because, some would say that in the corporate world at least, “incest is best”, KPMG were also the auditors of HBOS at the time they prepared the report. I share the concerns of Ian Fraser – none of us should be reassured when the financial industry is so keen to ‘Keep it in the family.’ In June 2012, Ian wrote:

I was surprised and exasperated to learn last week that chancellor George Osborne has rubber-stamped the appointment of John Griffith-Jones, the senior partner of KPMG, as chairman-designate of the Financial Conduct Authority, one of the two financial regulators that will take over from the soon-to-be-disbanded FSA. As the news of this “revolving door”,“poacher-turned-gamekeeper” appointment sank in, my disappointment bordered on outrage.

http://www.ianfraser.org/financial-regulation-with-griffith-jones-appointment-britain-keeps-it-in-the-family/

I was equally outraged Ian – and I begin to wonder what kind of ‘family’ the big banks and their auditors belong to? The Corleone family?

Meanwhile, over at the FRC, Sir Win Bischoff, former Chairman of Lloyds Banking Group (the parent of HBOS), has taken the post of Chairman while simultaneously becoming the Chair of a division of JP Morgan. You could not make it up!

I put up some details the other day about the history of the great and good on the Board of the PRA. https://spandaviablog.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/sir-win-bischoff-chairman-of-the-frc-and-also-a-chairman-of-jp-morgan-the-revolving-door-to-la-la-land-is-spinning-off-its-hinges/

Question: in the same way I sincerely doubt Sir James Crosby (as he was) was ever seriously going to let the FSA rumble the many and varied dodgy scenarios going on in HBOS while he was Deputy Chair, does anyone really believe John Griffith-Jones or Sir Win Bischoff are the right people to head up our regulators? Is Win Bischoff ever going to expose anything really bad that happened in Lloyds under his watch? Is Griffiths-Jones going to take action against KPMG or the HBOS audits under his watch. Is the forthcoming report into the failure of HBOS really going to highlight anything that would compromise those members of the ‘family’ who are still active?

Are we really on the road to reform in our banking sector – or have the powers that be, just made moved the chairs on the Titanic yet again and put the same established and reliable old foxes in place to guard the chicken coups? In my opinion, all this talk of reform is just tokenism.

I am fully aware the PRA are in the process of preparing the report on the failure of HBOS. I am also aware – as is Paul Moore – they fully intend to exclude issues that were fundamental to the Banks’ failure. Apparently, some of the really catastrophic or even criminal conduct in HBOS, is not considered relevant and consequently, is not part of the PRA remit. Yet again, they are not going against ‘the family.’