Members will perhaps have read the open letter I sent to Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in March. The content of that letter can be read on the website under public interest but the emphasis was on the lack of any discernible effort by the police and prosecuting authorities to take any action on complaints made by victims of alleged fraud committed by banks. Banks’ actions resulted in these victims losing very significant amounts of money and in some cases their homes, businesses and every material possession they owned as a consequence of the avarice and criminality of the banks, particularly RBS
I received an underwhelming response from Sturgeon’s office to advise me that my letter had been sent to the Crown Office for comment.
I subsequently received 2 letters from Crown Office, one dated 7th April and the second dated 26th April which indicated that the Crown Office would continue to consider and review my case on receipt of any new and additional information which I or anyone else submitted.
In Scotland, the definition of fraud is much simpler than the multitude of sections outlined in the Fraud Act 2006, which is applicable in England and Wales. The Scottish definition is fraud is an offence at common law and is the bringing about of some definite practical result by means of false pretences and requires to be proved by corroborative evidence.
The last three words have for me been the main stumbling block for bringing a prosecution in Scotland and the reason for my publicising my case in order to attract others in Scotland in the same position. I did manage to meet with six others in November last year, four of whom made complaints to Police Scotland intimating that they believed they had been defrauded by RBS. It would appear that Police Scotland did nothing thereafter to follow up on these complaints.
This prompted me to respond to the Crown Office to advise that four complainants had come forward with information that could provide corroboration for my complaint but that they had heard nothing further from either Police Scotland or the Crown Office.
As a consequence of my letter, I had a subsequent telephone conversation with the deputy head of Serious & Organised Crime Division of the Crown Office who gave me an assurance that there was no hesitation by the Crown to pursue RBS, or indeed any bank, if complaints had been made which was supported by evidence that could be used to bring a criminal prosecution.
This attitude was a complete reversal to that which I had experienced in previous discussions with the prosecutors, and I think it is worth stating that there have been significant developments and changes concerning the Crown Office, since I started making my complaints.
There was widespread publicity concerning the Glasgow bin lorry accident in December 2014 with prosecutors very quick to publicise the fact that there was no evidence in their view to bring any criminal charges against the driver of the bin lorry.
A subsequent Public Enquiry last year found that the driver had deliberately lied and falsified his driving license application, withholding crucial medical information which would have denied him obtaining a license if disclosed. Accordingly, it would appear that he ought never to have been driving the lorry and his medical condition was responsible for his unconsciousness at the wheel.
The families of the victims of that crash launched an application for a private criminal prosecution following the publication of the results of the Public Enquiry and, despite repeated denial and objections from the Crown Office that there was no evidence to proceed with a prosecution, it will be for Appeal Court judges to decide on the application. There have only been two private prosecutions allowed in Scotland in the last 100 years so it may well be that a precedent could be set if the Appeal Court allow this to proceed. The decision will be made in the Autumn.
May brought a Scottish Parliamentary election and I was privately informed prior to the election that the First Minister was not satisfied with the ability of the Lord Advocate, the chief prosecutor in Scotland, most specifically for his handling and denial of culpability in the approach taken by the Crown Office in the bin lorry case.
Before the election, the Lord Advocate, presumably seeing the writing on the wall, tendered his resignation, and a new Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC was appointed by the First Minister in June.
From my recent dealings with the Crown Office, it would appear that there is a very significant change of attitude in its approach to the complaints I and my Scottish colleagues have made. This has been most encouraging, specifically the confirmation I was given that firm instructions have been given to the police by the Crown Office to undertake investigations following the complaints and also the very strong assurance given to me that the Crown Office was committed to pursue the banks if the evidence warranted prosecution.
I believe this change is attributable to the new Lord Advocate and perhaps some comments from the Scottish Government to Crown Office about the banking sector that continues to receive bad publicity, particularly with criminal convictions now being handed out both in UK and other parts of the world including the USA.
It now remains to be seen if the police will undertake a wide ranging investigation and collect sufficient evidence of corroboration of my complaint to bring forward prosecutions against named individuals in RBS and the Bank itself.
We can all but hope, and applaud the police interviews commencing next week.
Nigel K Henderson