Former Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) banker turned Telegraph business hack James Quinn invoked the wrath of many on 29 October. He falsely suggested that RBS bosses expected “to be cleared” by regulators over allegations that the bank systematically destroyed thousands of small- and medium-sized business customers.
Quinn’s headline – Controversial RBS unit ‘to be cleared’ – was based on comments from RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan as the bank reported its third quarter 2016 results on 28 October.
Both RBS and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) sought to immediately distance themselves from The Telegraph’s story.
Reacting to the article, RBS Head of Media Linda Harper told The Canary:
We didn’t say that, you can see from the quotes in the article that it was taken out of context from the Q3 results presentation by Ross McEwan to investors last Friday.
The comments made in The Telegraph, to then suggest we are expecting to be cleared is stretching things. The points made by Ross were in relation to the central allegation, which is RBS destroyed SMEs wilfully for profit. In no way are we trying to pre-judge the outcome of the FCA investigation into RBS GRG [Royal Bank of Scotland’s Global Restructuring Group].
The story’s co-author, James Quinn, worked for RBS as a Corporate Banking Relationship Manager between 1998 and 2000, raising further questions as to the origins of the story.
The Telegraph implied that RBS expected to obtain a green light from the FCA for crimes against its small business customers. But in reality, McEwan’s comments only suggested that he had “seen nothing” to support the allegations that the bank was committing fraud against its own SME customers – for profit. He made no comment regarding his expectations for the outcome of the FCA inquiry.
The FCA and victims left unimpressed
While the FCA distanced itself from the claims, it cannot comment publicly on ongoing investigations, and would not want to prejudice the outcome of its ongoing RBS inquiry.
But privately, newly appointed Chief Executive of the FCA Andrew Bailey was unimpressed.
In an email sent to Clive May, a victim of RBS GRG, on 30 October and seen by The Canary, Bailey wrote:
I can tell you for sure that there is no truth in this article whatsoever. We have not yet reached a view on the facts of GRG and until we do so it is pure speculation by other parties. There are people who seem to think it serves a purpose to fly kites like this. I don’t think it serves any purpose and I am completely unmoved by reading such articles.
May was quick to note that, for thousands of RBS victims, hopes of justice and due compensation from the bank ebb and flow with every article published by the print media. To speculate that the FCA will clear RBS causes “immeasurable stress for all victims”, said May.
Nikki Turner, who runs the SME Alliance – a support network for small businesses destroyed by the banks – described the story as “extraordinary and inflammatory”.
And when The Telegraph’s co-author and business editor were confronted regarding the bogus headline on social media, they blocked those questioning the piece.
— Mr Ethical (@nw_nicholas) October 30, 2016
Previous Telegraph lies
It’s not the first time The Telegraph has been caught concocting stories which later unravelled in the face of public scrutiny.
In the lead up to the 2015 general election, The Telegraph claimed SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon “preferred Ed Miliband as PM to David Cameron” based on an alleged conversation with a French ambassador and a secret leaked memo which came to be known as ‘Nickileaks’.
Both Sturgeon and the ambassador quickly denied the conversation ever took place. Subsequent investigations confirmed the leaked memo upon which the entire story was concocted was written by staff of Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael – the Secretary of the Scottish Office.
Carmichael initially denied all knowledge of the memo – but that turned out to be a “blatant lie“, according to the courts. An investigation into the matter by the Cabinet Office revealed he not only knew of the memo, but he personally approved the leak by his staff.
Press regulator IPSO ultimately ruled against The Telegraph, stating that “the article was significantly misleading” and that the paper did not take even basic steps to verify the accuracy of the story by contacting the parties involved.
The Canary approached James Quinn for comment on criticism of his RBS story at The Telegraph, where a media spokesperson said:
It’s not something we will be offering any further comment on once the stories are out – but we do stand by our sourcing.
As a result of The Telegraph’s stonewalling, the matter has now been referred to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) for a breach of the Editors’ Code.
Given that the boss of the FCA stated in his email to May that “there is no truth in this article whatsoever”, it will be very interesting to see which way IPSO rules on this matter.
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