LONDON: A critic of Royal Bank of Scotland’s disgraced restructuring unit has spent £20,000 on a billboard berating the high street bank as part of efforts to reinstate an investigation into wrongdoing at the lender.
Neil Mitchell, a Scottish businessman, has paid four months up front on a £5,000 a month billboard on the A23 in Croydon, south London, in an effort to bolster support for his legal challenge.
The billboard, designed as a newspaper front page, shows the RBS logo dripping with what looks like blood and alleges the bank “caused austerity, suicides, bank’s crimes, economic destruction.” The word “suicide” is punctuated with an asterisk sourcing an internal memo in which staff were told to let businesses “hang themselves”.
Mitchell, the former chief executive of software company Torex Retail, told the Guardian the billboard was booked until December 2019, with an option to extend it for the whole of 2020.
“It is worth it for the attention it is getting,” Mitchell said. “I have other billboard designs drafted and am looking at the possibility of other sites – especially in Edinburgh.”
Mitchell has filed a legal application in the hope of forcing the Financial Conduct Authority to overturn a 2018 decision that allowed RBS and senior managers to escape disciplinary action over the mistreatment of small- and medium-sized business customers at its now-defunct Global Restructuring Group (GRG).
The FCA said actions by GRG ultimately fell outside its jurisdiction, as commercial lending is unregulated in the UK.
Victims said their businesses were pushed to failure and stripped of assets at the hands of GRG bankers. Mitchell claims GRG conspired to push Torex Retail into administration before selling it off at a discount price in 2007.
In 2007 Mitchell was a whistleblower on an earlier fraud at the company, which resulted in the conviction of Mark Woodbridge, a former group financial accountant, who was jailed for more than three years.
In 2017 a high court judge dismissed Mitchell’s lawsuit against RBS over the Torex episode, saying the case had no real prospect of success at trial.
Mitchell filed his legal application for the case against the FCA at the end of October 2018, and says he has more than 530 fellow complainants on board.
The FCA refused to comment on Mitchell’s legal application while the decision is pending.
“Our statement in July explained that the business of GRG was largely unregulated and the FCA’s powers to take action in such circumstances, even where the mistreatment of customers has been identified and accepted, are very limited,” it said.
“After carefully considering all the evidence we have concluded that our powers to discipline for misconduct do not apply and that an action in relation to senior management for lack of fitness and propriety would not have reasonable prospects of success. We will not comment on the application seeking to review this decision while it is pending.”