A businessman whose business was forced into administration by bank charges of £1.2 million has been cleared of harassing his bank manager by sending a letter of complaint to his home.
Paul Nightingale was so angry at the way he was treated by the Natwest bank he wrote to manager Timothy Baron to warn him he was planning to start an online campaign against the bank.
He says his Royal Beacon Hotel in Exmouth was driven to the wall and repossessed by the bank which imposed huge charges for debt swaps and had the property’s value downgraded from £4.25 million to £1.5 million.
His response was to write a letter to 48 executives of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Natwest group threatening to ‘take retribution’ by exposing their misdeeds.
Most of the letters were sent to business addresses but he sent Mr Baron’s to his home in Exeter and mentioned his wife Karen’s name in it.
Nightingale, aged 60, of Louisa Terrace, Exmouth, denied two offences of harassment and was cleared on appeal by Judge Erik Salomonsen at Exeter Crown Court.
The judge said he was making no comment on the merits of the dispute with the bank, which is subject to ongoing civil proceedings, but was deciding the case solely on whether the two letters sent to Mr Baron’s home amounted to harassment.
He said:”The crown has to make us sure over the issue of whether these letters amounted to a course of conduct which harassed Mr Baron and whether a reasonable man or woman viewing would form that view.
“We are of the opinion that the appeal should be allowed. We make no comment on the allegations which Mr Nightingale advanced against the bank.
“They are matters for the civil courts and the Financial Conduct Authority. They are not matters for this court and we express no opinion whatsoever.”
Miss Eleanor Purkis, prosecuting, said Nightingale sent two letters to Mr Baron in January and February 2013 which he found alarming because they were sent to his family home and mentioned the name of his wife.
She said the letters threatened to mount a public campaign against the bank which would expose not only alleged business misdeeds but the personal life of its employees.
Mr Baron told the court:”In my view the letters were threatening. I thought there were a number of threats being made against me and the bank and to other employees. I took it as akin to blackmail.
“I was primarily concerned because they were sent to my home address and I felt there were threats to damage my personal life and reputation.”
Nightingale said he was upset with the bank because he believed it had forced his business into administration through charges totalling around £1.2 million relating to loan swap arrangements.
His hotel was valued independently in 2007 for £4.25 million but the bank had it revalued and refused to tell him the new figure, which he later found to be around £1.5 million and foreclosed.
He started a high court case and complained to the FSA, business secretary Vince Cable, and had the case raised by his local Tory MP Hugo Swire.
He even confronted RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton at the bank’s 2012 AGM and said a promise to investigate his complaint was not honoured.
He said he wrote to 48 executives, including Mr Baron, out of frustration.
He said:”I felt I was being stonewalled. I was trying to drive things forward with the bank and was perhaps selfishly hoping they would look at my case and treat me fairly.
“Mr Baron had been my relationship manager for 20 months and I met him three times a week sometimes. We talked about other things, which was how I knew his wife’s name.
“I hoped he would take up my case with his superiors and get the matter resolved. I hoped the whole matter could be settled out of court and I could get my life back.
“In hindsight perhaps I should not have sent such strong letters but they were not intended to be threatening. I did not think they were in any sense threatening and to say they were blackmail is preposterous.”