Simon Read: Caught up in the scandal about leaks at the regulator

You won’t find me bashing the banks for the sake of it, but sadly they’ve deserved all the criticism that’s been sent their way in recent years

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The Independent Online

I got a bit of a shock this week when I was named in an official investigation into the actions of the City regulator.

The long-awaited Davis Report examined how billions were wiped off the value of British insurers in one day last year when the Financial Conduct Authority revealed secret information to a newspaper – The Daily Telegraph – about its plans to investigate the insurance industry.

As the Clifford Chance lawyer Simon Davis wrote in the report, the FCA created a “false market” in the shares. The effect was headline news, with companies such as Aviva, Legal & General and Prudential losing £3bn of their value in a day, even though the FCA later clarified that the probe would be narrower than first thought.

The report was damning about the FCA’s conduct, calling it “high risk, poorly supervised and inadequately controlled”.

The regulator had to spend almost £3.8m on the report following widespread criticism. Those costs included £2m in fees to Clifford Chance and a further £1m to another law firm, Kingsley Napley, for advising the FCA’s staff.

My role was subsidiary to the main issue as the watchdog had at the same time briefed me about its plans to crack down on expensive packaged bank accounts – details of which are included in the report.

I scrapped my story when the storm broke that morning. But I did, of course, report full details of the crackdown as it subsequently became public.

Which begs the question about the use of such briefings, exclusives or embargoed stories. Are they part of standard journalistic practice? Yes. Sometimes we agree certain terms before we can publish what may be sensitive information, maybe because it might affect share prices.

How do we get these stories? To be honest, sometimes they come to us. This week’s report revealed that the FCA brought the packaged bank accounts story to me because I “write a good pro-consumer/anti bank story”. But while I’m happy to be officially recognised as being on the side of consumers, it’s not fair to say I’m anti-bank. I am anti-misleading charges and unfair treatment, but I’m pro-banks that offer transparent products and fair pricing.

Journalism is about balance, not scaremongering or sensationalism. So you won’t find me bashing the banks for the sake of it – only if their deserve it. Sadly they’ve deserved all the criticism that’s been sent their way in recent years.

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