The Irish Times

Housebuild­ing Taggart brothers found liable for £5m guarantee

Michael Taggart’s evidence is ‘flawed, inconsiste­nt and implausibl­e’, judge says Court finds no evidence of mendacity or deceit on part of any Ulster Bank official

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Former housebuild­ers Michael and John Taggart owe Ulster Bank a £5 million (¤6.9 million) personal guarantee, a Belfast High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Burgess held the brothers liable as he rejected their multimilli­on pound counter-writ for alleged negligence which they say led to the collapse of their property empire.

He described Michael Taggart’s evidence in the case as being “flawed, inconsiste­nt and implausibl­e”.

According to the judge Mr Taggart always seemed to lay the blame at the door of others.

“At times listening to him I concluded that he believed what he was recounting was accurate, even in the face of insuperabl­e evidence that it could not be,” he said.

In Mr Justice Burgess’s view the property developer needed a scapegoat, centring his accusation­s on senior Ulster Bank official Gary Barr.

Finding no evidence to back claims of deceitfuln­ess, the judge instead said Mr Barr “went the extra mile” to help the group through cash crises of its own making. He did, however, admonish the official for the “crass” decision to access the Facebook account of Michael Taggart’s wife long after he had stopped dealing with the firm.

“Even against the backdrop of highly personal attacks on him by the Taggart brothers, that action on his part was indefensib­le and something of which he should be thoroughly ashamed,” the judge said.

‘Flashing red’

However confirming the overall verdict, he said signals within the company were “flashing red” from the start of 2007, if not sooner.

“I found no evidence of mendacity or deceit on the part of any official in the banks, or that any of them made any misleading statement to the Taggart brothers or any member of the group in connection with the facilities or the operation of those facilities,” he said.

“Yet apart from the granting of the 2007 guarantee and apart from the introducti­on of £1.4 million in September 2007, there is no evidence that any of that wealth which the court was told was so readily available was ever introduced into the group.”

Rejecting the Taggarts’ claims about being kept in the dark, he said: “The evidence is that they were fully aware throughout of those concerns.”

The Co Derry brothers sued Ulster Bank for alleged improper conduct they contended contribute­d to the fall of the Taggart Group. Once a huge operation on both sides of the Border, with interests in Britain, Europe and the US, the firm was devastated in the 2007 property market crash. Within a year it had gone into administra­tion.

During the trial the court heard how the businessme­n’s property portfolio once extended to a Luxembourg shopping centre and luxury apartments in Florida and on the borders of Monte Carlo.

Warnings

In mid-2007 the Taggart Group had assets of about £600 million, compared with debts of around £245 million, the court heard. But counsel for Ulster Bank argued that the firm was warned more than 20 times in four months that its banking facilities were “bouncing into excess”.

The judge described Michael Taggart as the dominant figure in the company, determined and ambitious with an intimate knowledge of the state of its business at all times. He said it gave him no pleasure to categorise his evidence as “at times falling short of the truth, either by way of omission or more directly”.

‘‘ The evidence is that they were fully aware throughout of those concerns

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