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.”

The Village Of The Dammed – How Did We Get Here?

The other night I watched John Carpenter’s ‘Village Of The Dammed.’ I’ve seen it before and, much as I like John Carpenter films, I’m sure he would agree it is a bit dated (although the message is still very clear). But you know what it’s like when you get to that point of the evening, after an exasperating day, when you end up watching whatever happens to be on the TV but without making a conscience choice? Well that was me.

Some times I think nothing is random. As it turns out the film was actually so relevant to life in the 21st Century, it was even more scary now than when it was made. All the way through the film I kept thinking – this is where we are now. A very small minority has the ability to control and torture the majority. In that case it was a bunch of children sired by an alien life form. In our case it’s a bunch of bankers who don’t only have control over the people but also control over Governments. The same Governments who profess to work for the people because they were elected by the people – but, it would seem, are terrified of the banks.

It’s been interesting therefore to realise there is one species that considers itself superior to everyone – the so called Elite which includes bankers but also sharp practiser’s who are so wealthy they believe (and who would realistically question them) they are a cut above everything and even morality . Which is why Philip Green – the mega mogul who has been unbelievably successful in getting multi millions from banks can, it would seem, simply refuse to attend a hearing in front of a Parliamentary Committee if he doesn’t want to. Not only that, his terms for attending are so ludicrous (he requires the resignation of the Chair of the Committee) he knows they would never be adhered to – so he just won’t turn up and he’s off the hook. In a world full of sharks, there is always a bigger shark somewhere.

For anyone who doesn’t know who Philip Green is – he is the name behind a whole host of High Street stores like Top Shop, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Burtons etc. etc. and, of course BHS. BHS which went into administration recently causing the loss of 11,000 jobs and with a £500M plus deficit in the pensions fund.

I think it would take a team of forensic accountants a very long time to get a clear picture of Sir Phil’s business empire and I’m not sure it would be possible unless all those Countries participating in the ‘off shore accounts club’ were to reach a unilateral agreement on transparency. It’s more likely Boris and Dave would make up and form a new State with Putin as its leader.

So this is where we are:

Our banks are so big they cannot fail. Our Government is so afraid of offending financial services they have agreed to the terms of La La Land. We have laws but they don’t apply to everyone and in part because the majority of people can’t afford the process of accessing the Courts let alone applying the laws. Our regulators (should I add our honoured regulators) seem so biased towards their remit of ‘Market Confidence’, they’ve shelved ‘Consumer Protection’. Our auditors are so reliant on mega bucks from Corporations they wouldn’t say boo to a toxic goose even if it was about to suffocate every one in a thousand mile radius. And, to add insult to injury, we have people like Philip Green who has milked the banks (including banks bailed out by the tax payer), and is now demanding the resignation of the Chairman of a Parliamentary Commission because – well, what better way to get out of answering any questions about anything.

If MPs annoy him enough, I dare say he’ll be so miffed he’ll close down the whole kit and caboodle, sell up and retire to Monaco. Yes he might lose his Knighthood but does anyone really think he gives a rats arse about a title as opposed to the several hundred million pounds it would now cost him to keep it? And if he did pay to keep it, how honourable would that appear to be? It wouldn’t change what happened to BHS or the cavalier way 11,000+ have been treated. It would just mean a billionaire dropped a few hundred million to remain a Knight of the Realm. What value would that put on being a Knight Of The Realm?
None of it says much for the progression of Capitalism. Not that Socialism, Communism or Fascism have worked too well either. So where do we go from here? Have the so called ‘Elite’ won the day? Have we come so far a billionaire can take delivery of a multi million pound yacht while thousands of people lose their jobs and their hard earned pensions and there’s nothing anyone can do about it? Unfortunately I think the answer is yes. Legally Parliament has no power over perceived inequality and proving a legal case against a smart operator getting incredibly wealthy at the public expense, is a non starter. Morally, Parliament has every right to ask questions but legally (and it’s all about the law), what good can pointing out moral obligation do?

Many people have watched ‘The Big Short’ and many people have been shocked by it – but most people in SME Alliance won’t be. Most of them are living with the consequences of the laws of La La land. The members of SME Alliance are exasperated at the way in which bankers have trampled over our businesses and our lives and we have made a small but definitely recognisable protest. We’re not particularly brave at SME Alliance but so many of us have been put with our backs against the wall we have had to collectively object and come out fighting. I’m sure, to those running multi billion Corporations, be they banks or business empires, they feel we are no more than gnats trying to infiltrate a Rhinoceros hide. If the likes of Philip Green can brush off Parliamentary Committee’s in such a cavalier manner, it doesn’t hold out much hope for us lesser mortals. Or does it?

People power – when enough people recognise corruption and inequality is getting out of hand, the results, historically, have repeatedly been surprising. The EU Debate will be the best test of people power. Whether you’re IN or OUT, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the people running both shows just don’t know any more which way the public vote will swing. And that has been a wake up call for those who thought the public were neither here nor there in the debate. As it turns out, it wouldn’t even be easy to rig this vote because there are strong forces on both sides.

However, if we do come out of Europe and for many reasons I have always been for Brexit, I see no bright future for Britain while we remain entirely under the control of an elite minority who can’t even be called to account by Parliament. Staying in Europe or coming out will result in little change unless we re-instate democracy, morality and the law – and we’re a long way from that while the powers that be have no ability to ask questions, let alone hold people to account. Even if Philip Green does turn up and answer questions in front of the Parliamentary Committee and even if the Committee don’t like his answers, what can they do about it?

As it turns out, ‘The Village Of The Dammed’ is not as dated a concept as I thought.

Guest blog from Nicholas Turner – Brexit, The Right Way To Leave

I have mostly stayed out of the Brexit debate because, as someone who has lived in Italy, France and Hungary and as someone who absolutely loves all the different European cultures, I have never been in any doubt we should Brexit – so there is no debate for me. I have lots of reasons why I feel this and mostly because I feel we aren’t just losing our ability to run our own Country, we and the rest of Europe risk losing our cultural identity – which is, I think, a terrifying prospect.

However, this blog isn’t about my views. Neither is this guest post a blog – it’s a seriously considered essay written by my step son, Nicholas Turner (yes, Nick & Nikki Turner does cause confusion in the Turner household).  Not for the feint hearted because it’s not a short document and it’s certainly nothing like my blogs which tend to be about immediate reaction – “this is what has happened today.” Nick has considered long and hard all aspects of the ‘In or Out’ debate and this essay documents his conclusion.

I hope those people who really do have concerns about staying in Europe, will read this. Equally I hope those people who are sure we should stay will read it and consider the content. Any comments gratefully received and I will pass them on to Nick.

Please click on the link below to read the document

Brexit The Right Way To Leave

When justice is delayed too long the Devil is dancing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter to all.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice delayed is justice denied #HBOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be honest, if I was George Osborne I would be absolutely desperate to get rid of all and any shares in RBS or Lloyds – and he clearly is. Apparently RBS are now going to buy back their own shares to help the Government out:

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 ), 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.