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.

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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