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Don’t Bank On Justice

Two recent cases in the North raise questions about the justice system's treatment of those who fall foul of the banks

Ivan Preston and Danske Bank

In the first case, the North’s Police Ombudsman found police misconduct in the treatment of a Bangor businessman, Ivan Preston, who had his 2014 conviction for harassment overturned on appeal. Preston had sent 357 emails in a year to a senior Danske Bank official, querying the awarding of a contract for courier services by the Northern Ireland Interbank Forum (representing. and co-ordinating services for, the four main banks).

The senior official, Elwyn Thompson, said in his statement to police that the “content of the contact being made by Mr Preston is directed mostly against the ethics of banking practices…”. Thompson did not allege that any of the emails contained threats and all email providers allow for mail from a specific address to be blocked.

Preston had no previous convictions, but was convicted in January 2014. The judge imposed a conditional discharge. Four months later the conviction was quashed on appeal.

On foot of a complaint from Preston, the North’s Police Ombudsman found there were “factual inaccuracies” in evidential materials which police had gathered. Two police officers were disciplined. One of them received a sanction in respect of his original statement regarding Preston’s attitude.

Preston’s problems began when the Northern Ireland Interbank Forum ended the courier contract of the Preston family firm and awarded it to DHL. Preston was concerned that this company did not offer workers the same pay and conditions his firm did.

In a statement to police on December 7 2012, Thompson said: “A full Audit was independently conducted into the tendering process that fully justified the outcome as originally reached in the awarding of the new collection contract [to DHL not the Preston family]”.

However, a letter of February 23 this year on behalf of Ulster Bank Chief Executive, Gerry Mallon, to Lady Sylvia Hermon MP differed significantly. This said “RBS [Royal Bank of Scotland] UK & I[reland [which owns Ulster Bank]] completed an internal view of the tender process in 2012 as part of our audit requirements and no discrepancies were found”. In other words the audit was internal not independent.

Lars-Johan Sandvik, a director of Danske Bank, Ulster Bank’s Danish parent, emailed Preston a week before Thompson’s statement: “You have already filed a ‘whistleblower’ case, and it is being investigated”. Danske Bank seems to have been heavy-handed with Preston on the basis of a flimsy internal audit and despite the fact his case was still being investigated.

The prosecution and appeal have apparently been stressful for Preston. His GP, Dr Joanne Drew, has written that his health has suffered. “He has lost his positive outlook on life, become more insular and less able to cope with demands of daily living”, she wrote.

Stephen Boyes and First Trust (AIB)

Separately, Stephen Boyes, a farmer from Maghaberry, County Antrim, is currently living in the South, as he would face immediate imprisonment if he set foot in the North, for defying a court order to surrender land. This relates to a loan he took out from First Trust (AIB in the North) for £850,000.

In November 2009, the bank’s lawyers wrote a ‘without prejudice’ letter to Boyes: “Upon publication of (Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan), if the 20 acre portion of your client’s land is owned [presumably in error for ‘zoned’]for employment/industry, your client will immediately and actively market this for sale for such sum as will insure the repayment in full of the debt due to our client…”.

In April 2012, the North’s former Justice Minister David Ford announced that Magilligan, the North’s second-largest prison, was to close. Closure of Magilligan would mean Maghaberry would have to expand. This would increase the value of the lands, which landlocked the prison and were owned by Boyes, and his family, through a trust. Shortly after the announcement, Boyes received notification that the Bank had appointed a receiver to those lands. He maintains the bank’s actions were draconian where he and his family were on the verge of a windfall.

Boyes has also produced a report from a handwriting expert, querying the authenticity of his signature on one of the leases the bank relies on.

His family has made several complaints to the Police Ombudsman, as large numbers of police have accompanied the receiver, which they claim to find intimidating. A PSNI spokesperson said it does not comment on the operational deployment of officers. In April, the Irish News reported that the PSNI is investigating allegations regarding ownership of the lands on which the prison has been built.

 

Anton McCabe