Bris­tol PCC ac­cused of con­flict of in­ter­est over Lloyds branch

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Michael O’Dwyer

BRIS­TOL’S po­lice com­mis­sioner has been ac­cused of a con­flict of in­ter­est af­ter fail­ing for years to dis­close her hus­band’s po­si­tion on the board of a ma­jor share­holder in Lloyds – de­spite long-run­ning claims of mal­prac­tice by the bank.

Sue Mountsteve­ns did not an­nounce the con­nec­tion un­til last year, seven years af­ter she was first elected as Po­lice and Crime Com­mis­sioner for Avon and Som­er­set.

The force has long been dogged by ac­cu­sa­tions it failed to prop­erly in­ves­ti­gate claims that Lloyds’ Bris­tol unit de­stroyed cus­tomers’ businesses. Ms Mountsteve­ns is re­spon­si­ble for hold- ing it to ac­count.

Her hus­band, Stephen Robert­son, has been a non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Har­g­reaves Lans­down since 2011.

The Bris­tol-based in­vest­ment plat­form has al­most £500m of Lloyds shares, held on be­half of its cus­tomers rather than on Har­g­reaves’ own ac­count. Kashif Shabir, a prop­erty in­vestor and former Lloyds cus­tomer who claims his busi­ness was bankrupted by Lloyds Bris­tol, said the link was only dis­closed af­ter he made a com­plaint.

The Bris­tol re­struc­tur­ing unit has been de­scribed as a “mor­tu­ary” where vi­able small businesses were forced into in­sol­vency so Lloyds could slash lend­ing as it scram­bled to sur­vive af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis. A se­nior po­lice source said: “There is a con­flict of in­ter­est if her hus­band is closely in­volved as a ma­jor in­vestor in Lloyds.”

A spokesman for Ms Mountsteve­ns said she goes be­yond what is re­quired to be open and trans­par­ent in her dec­la­ra­tions of in­ter­est. He said an in­de­pen­dent panel had re­viewed the PCC’s man­age­ment of ac­cu­sa­tions the po­lice mis­han­dled al­le­ga­tions against Lloyds and con­cluded there is no ev­i­dence that calls into ques­tion her in­tegrity or re­li­a­bil­ity. The spokesman said Thames Val­ley Po­lice (TVP) re­viewed claims the po­lice mis­han­dled the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but found it had been ap­pro­pri­ate.

Avon and Som­er­set Po­lice con­cluded that new ev­i­dence re­ceived by TVP showed no ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal­ity.

Lloyds has said it found no ev­i­dence to sup­port claims of mis­con­duct or that it fraud­u­lently robbed cus­tomers of their businesses. There is no sug­ges­tion of wrong­do­ing by Mr Robert­son or Har­g­reaves Lans­down.

Banks have been fight­ing to im­prove their im­age since the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, although the in­dus­try has con­tin­ued to be tainted by scan­dal. Bri­tain’s big­gest ever bank fraud took place in the run-up to the cri­sis at the Read­ing branch of HBOS, be­fore Lloyds’ dis­as­trous takeover of the lender in 2008.

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