Why there must be thorough probe of claims made by Bank Signature Forgery Campaign - Greg Wright

WE need to talk about my relationship with Mel.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking (APPG) is so concerned that it has given its formal support to the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign

Mel Stride, that is. As regular readers of this column will know, Mr Stride, who is the chairman of the Treasury Committee, has blocked me from following him on the social media platform Twitter.

I honestly have no idea what has caused this breakdown in what could have blossomed into a beautiful friendship.

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My only professional dealings with Mel have related to the loan charge, a controversial policy which – according to an independent review – caused “serious distress” to honest people. I’ve accurately reported Mel’s comments on the loan charge in House of Commons’ debates.

But let’s place this issue to one side. Over one issue at least, Mel Stride deserves credit for doing the right thing. He’s using his position to exert pressure on the authorities to thoroughly investigate claims that some of the banks have been forging their customers’ signatures.

If these accusations are true, then heads must roll at the very top.

Mr Stride has written to the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) demanding to know what progress has been made into claims made by the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign.

There have been allegations of potential criminal activity at the banks, where documents, including those relating to home repossessions, have not been signed by the authorised signatory.

The previous Treasury Committee wrote to the FCA and the NCA in July 2019 requesting that they engage with the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign to review their evidence and investigate as appropriate.

There is more than a hint of exasperation in Mr Stride’s written request for an update on the FCA’s and NCA’s engagement with the campaign.

It seems rather surprising that these bodies have apparently not seen fit to update MPs before now.

Mr Stride is demanding information on the FCA’s and NCA’s work and findings so far and details of regulatory breaches and offences that may have occurred, and any regulatory or legal arguments that are being considered.

An NCA spokesperson told me: “We are continuing to assess the material, including additional information supplied in September. Together with partners in the FCA and SFO, we are making a thorough assessment to determine whether there are grounds for a criminal or regulatory investigation.”

An FCA spokesperson confirmed it had received the letter and will respond to the TSC.

Valuable lessons could be learned from other parts of the world. When pursued with vigour, investigations into this type of criminal behaviour can result in justice being delivered.

In the US, all 50 State Attorney Generals have already investigated the industrial-scale forgery of bank signatures on court documents in cases against customers.

The investigation resulted in penalty payments by US banks of $25 billion and the review of four million court cases by banks against customers. The US Department of Justice described the penalty payments as “the largest consumer financial protection settlement in United States history”.

In Australia, the Royal Commission documented evidence of signature forgery at five major banks.

In the UK, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking (APPG) is so concerned that it has given its formal support to the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign.

To quote the APPG, “this campaign will provide a vital method of gathering evidence of possible signature forgeries by UK banks in court documents”.

The Bank Signature Forgery Campaign is supported by the Yorkshire Tory MP Kevin Hollinrake, who has been alarmed by allegations that business customers have been the victims of forgery.

In July 2019, an investigation by the BBC set out evidence of signature forgery on court documents used by UK banks and their representatives to repossess properties.

It is to be hoped that the “thorough assessment” of the material relating to these allegations will be completed quickly and appropriate action taken.

Justice delayed is always justice denied.

If criminal activity has taken place, we cannot allow the perpetrators to slink away into the shadows.

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