Maxwellisation must not stop the HBOS report from being published


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The Independent Online

Amazing to think that the late Robert Maxwell is still casting a long shadow over British public life more than 20 years after the former Mirror Group proprietor fell from his yacht into the Atlantic Ocean.

The process of “Maxwellisation” requires that those criticised in official reports be given the chance to respond, and is a consequence of his successful legal action against the Department of Trade and Industry for savaging him in one in 1969.

The need to get through it is the reason given for the suppression of a report into the near collapse of HBOS before the stricken banking group’s government-sponsored rescue by Lloyds. Commissioned in 2012, publication has been subject to repeated delays, ostensibly because of the number of people taken to task. That latest, we are told, is because a second bout of Maxwellisation is currently under way. This is starting to make people a mite suspicious that the process set in train by Cap’n Bob is being used as a convenient cover.

Now I usually treat conspiracy theories like this with a high degree of scepticism. But here’s the thing: the fact that the report is being kept under wraps is convenient, and not just for those who set HBOS on the road to ruin. People like James Crosby, or Andy Hornby to whom he handed the reins a couple of years before HBOS went down, have nothing to gain from its publication. The same could be said of their former colleague Peter Cummings, who remains the only senior figure at any of Britain’s failed banks to have been disciplined.

But it also suits the banking industry, its regulators at the Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England. Not to mention their past and current political masters, even if their reasons are rather different.

It would be a mistake. The financial crisis remains an open wound that won’t properly heal until the issues the report covers – including why Mr Cummings is alone in having faced a penalty – are aired.

Andrew Tyrie and his Treasury Select Committee need to keep banging at this door. If they must resort to a battering ram to get it open, so be it.