Comment: The City could be made to pay for this piracy

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The Independent Online
As the story of Andrew Regan's assault on the Cooperative Wholesale Society draws towards its final denouement, the City needs to be asking itself some hard and searching questions. No apology is offered for returning, scratched record like, to this extraordinary saga or for the high morale tone being adopted in these columns, for we are looking, we believe, at a very significant City scandal here.

With the approach of a new Labour government, filled with reforming and high ethical zeal, the City needs this episode like a hole in the head. It is not just that Mr Regan's assault on the CWS is an act of unrestrained greed. That, perhaps, is what we must expect from the modern City. It is much worse than this, for it now transpires that the assault also involves unauthorised plunder of commercial secrets and confidences on an unprecedented scale. Seven boxes of the stuff have over the months been smuggled out of the CWS and delivered to order to Mr Regan and his henchmen.

This might amount to everyday practice for Mr Regan and his fellow conspirators, but can it really be par for the course at Hambros, Schroders, Travers Smith Braithwaite, Allen and Overy, Nomura, Clifford Chance and all the other top drawer City firms involved in this takeover? They might vainly protest now that the information supplied by Allan Green and others has not been of much use to them in their disreputable endeavour, but they lapped it up at the time.

Nor does the insistence of Hambro's and others that the information was provided "voluntarily", and that legal advice was taken on it all, provide any more than the lamest possible of excuses. Blinded by the fees on offer, said to amount to pounds 33m to Hambros alone in the event of success, these are organisations which have failed to ask the right questions either of themselves or their clients.

Did they know where the documents were coming from? And if they did, were they aware that the man supplying them had also sold a CWS contract to Mr Regan for pounds 2.85m which Mr Regan himself believed to be worth pounds 5m, the difference being pocketed by a shadowy offshore middleman?

Those that believe the City to be a place peopled only by greedy spivs will draw comfort for their view from this bid. If this were any old house being burgled by the City, then perhaps nobody would take that much notice. But it is not; it is the Coop. It is the people of the North, people on below average incomes, old Labour territory, honest, decent people with little understanding of offshore tax havens and high rolling financiers, people to whom the language of cost cutting, asset management, return on capital and shareholder value is as alien as a foreign tongue.

If it is not careful, the City will find itself punished for its act of piracy, and as usual, it will only have itself to blame. As for the bid itself, we can expect another day of mud flinging when the show returns to the High Court tomorrow, but it hard to see what Mr Regan can hope to salvage from the wreckage now.