UK crime agency criticised for inaction over alleged bank forgery
The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has come under fire for not acting on reports which accuse banks of forging signatures and making up evidence to repossess houses.
Firms involved in the reports include UK Asset Resolution, as well as now collapsed and part-Virgin Money owned Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, Mortgage Express, and major UK bank Lloyds Banking Group.
Banks in the US charged with similar forgery allegations have, in the past, paid penalty payments amounting to $25 billion.
Following a BBC investigation in July 2019, members of parliament (MPs) from the Treasury Committee called on the NCA to look into the allegations.
The NCA has received at least 19 boxes of evidence which relate to a total of 362 incidents, according to the BBC. The Bank Signature Forgery Campaign accumulated these boxes.
MPs claim the agency has not contacted victims, and that no investigation has even started yet.
What the NCA has said
The NCA says it is still conducting a “thorough assessment” of these 19 boxes of evidence.
“We are continuing to assess the material, including additional information supplied in May 2020,” an NCA spokesman tells the BBC.
The NCA is also working with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). With these organisations, it will be decided whether the reports warrant a criminal of regulatory investigation.
But Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, Anthony Stansfeld, tells the BBC: “To talk about making an ‘assessment’ is an excuse they keep giving. You can’t ‘assess’ for 15 months. There has to be a proper criminal investigation.”
The allegations of forgery
The BBC spoke to handwriting experts which confirmed “in many cases” that signatures had been forged. The same experts also said that multiple names used the same signature.
These signatures – allegedly forged – were used on court documents by banks and their representatives to repossess houses.
Victims seem to have been pushed out of their homes, based on personal guarantee documents they never signed.
These documents allow a bank to go after an individual’s personal assets to repay debts owed by a business – that includes their family home, and any possessions in the house.
In one case, a victim’s financial advisor claimed to be present at a signing. He later claimed he was on holiday in Spain, and therefore not present.
In this case, the bank refused to provide an original document, rather sharing a photocopy. Unable to afford legal representation, this victim eventually lost her case.
NCA drags its feet
The Bank Signature Forgery Campaign’s founder, former KPMG partner Julian Watts, claims the NCA director general Lynne Owens has withdrawn from as many as four pre-arranged appointments to discuss the evidence.
“The NCA seems to be ignoring calls from the Treasury committee and our local police and crime commissioner to investigate the forgery of signatories at banks,” says MP and Treasury committee member Steve Baker.
“These forgeries could have cost my constituents and people across the country their homes,” Baker adds. “But the NCA hasn’t investigated properly. That is not good enough and I’m calling on the NCA either to investigate now – or to explain why not.”