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

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Focus - By Noel Ed­monds

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

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