I’m not the only one who went through hell. Toxic banks have wrecked thousands of lives
NOEL: Evil bankers cost me £300m and drove me to a drug overdose
who saw last week’s paper. Mr Tomlinson’s Government-commissioned report in 2013 exposed the unfair treatment of business customers by RBS and he is dropping by this afternoon to discuss my fight with Lloyds.
Tomorrow, I’m off to Oxford to meet representatives of Thames Valley Police and hand over documentation about my case, and to supply additional HBOS/Lloyds’ names for their ongoing investigation, Operation Hornet.
It had already been an exhausting week. Yet just when I was about to take the dog for a long, relaxing walk, there was another startling development. An email arrived, followed by a phone chat and then a hastily arranged four-hour meeting at my home with the owner of the most explosive evidence I’ve seen. I’ve seen bundles of documents, which leave me in absolutely no doubt that the banking malpractices which wrecked thousands of lives were not confined to a single rogue unit in HBOS Reading, but extend much further and for a lot longer.
The harsh reality, which makes me very sad and extremely concerned for our nation’s future, is that for many years huge numbers of small to medium-sized UK businesses have been systematically pillaged by many of our largest banks – banks that are now too big to fail and too big to regulate, run by former executives who apparently believe they are too big to jail.
A spokesman for Lloyds Banking Group said: ‘We are making progress with providing compensation to customers affected by the criminal misconduct of those convicted in relation to HBOS Reading. Where we have customer input we have been able to assess nearly all of these cases and provide compensation offers. We have provided offers to nearly half of all customers in the review, and in more than 50 per cent of such cases the offers have been accepted and paid.’
SMALL firms are unable to obtain justice in their complaints against banks and the system needs an urgent overhaul, the City’s top regulator has told The Mail on Sunday.
Andrew Bailey, head of the Financial Conduct Authority, is calling on politicians to set up a new, independent process to deal with disputes between firms and lenders amid a growing row over how banks treat small and mediumsized business customers. This could be an independent ombudsman or a tribunal.
Television star Noel Edmonds gave a candid account in last week’s MoS of how he says his Unique Group business was treated by HBOS bankers a decade ago. Separately, victims of RBS’s distressed firms division are pressing for the FCA to publish in full a report into the controversial unit.
Bailey says there is a gap in regulation, leaving firms with nowhere to turn. While individuals can take grievances to the Financial Ombudsman, there is no provision for many firms. He said: ‘For issues such as RBS and its Global Restructuring Group, interest rate hedging, and complaints from small and medium-sized firms, there isn’t a proper dispute resolution process. I think there should be an ombudsman-style service for them.’
Bailey’s call was echoed by politicians yesterday. Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, who is on the Treasury Select Committee, said: ‘Small firms are the lifeblood of our economy, driving innovation and creating jobs. A powerful new ombudsman could help make sure they are treated fairly from now on.’
There is widespread agreement that arrangements to resolve complaints against banks by firms are inadequate. Some favour an ombudsman. But the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fair Business Banking, which was set up to look at solutions to issues created by the bank misconduct over small firms, has been pushing for tribunals.
Heather Buchanan, director of policy for the group, said: ‘Institutions must not be allowed to be their own judge, jury and executioner on misconduct. It is imperative we have an independent, robust dispute resolution system that has full powers of disclosure.’
A spokeswoman for UK Finance, the trade body for UK lenders, said it was open to the idea. She added: ‘We are committed to working with Government, regulators, stakeholders and our members to understand whether there may be benefits in extending protections and, if so, what the most appropriate ways to do that would be.’
But some victims say the proposals do not go far enough and want heavier monitoring – or for the big lenders to be dismantled.
Edmonds told The Mail on Sunday this weekend: ‘Bankers operate on the basis that they will flout the regulations, bend the rules and exploit their customers until they get caught. We’ve already established that bankers can’t be trusted so they need to be policed on a daily, hourly, by-the-minute basis.’
Lawrence Tomlinson, the entrepreneur whose report on the treatment of small firms by banks uncovered allegations of abuse at RBS, feared tribunals or an ombudsman service could be controlled by former bankers. He called for RBS and Lloyds to be broken up, adding: ‘While RBS and Lloyds have an absolutely dominant position, firms are always on the back foot.’
Separately, The Mail on Sunday understands that an inquiry into what Lloyds knew about the socalled HBOS Reading fraud has been widened. Dame Linda Dobbs, the former High Court judge hired to look into the issue, is scrutinising the period in 2008 when Lloyds was in talks to acquire HBOS, to find out what executives were told during the due diligence process.
Dobbs’s inquiry previously covered only the period after the takeover in 2009 to January this year when six bankers were jailed for their part in the fraud. Widening the inquiry gives Dobbs the possibility of questioning former HBOS board members and bankers involved in the takeover.
Dobbs cannot force witnesses to talk to her. But the inquiry is sifting through 50,000 documents obtained from Lloyds and has appealed to victims to supply material so that it can check whether whistleblower emails sent to the bank were deleted in a cover-up. A Lloyds spokesman said: ‘It is for Dame Linda to consider what documents and which individuals are relevant to assist her review. Lloyds Group is determined to get to the bottom of what went on.’
NOT ALONE: Our report, left, about Noel’s battle prompted readers to share their own heartbreaking tales
NO JUSTICE: Noel Edmonds and regulator Andrew Bailey