David Prosser: Now it's time to give Sir Fred a break

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The Independent Online

Outlook Bet your life that every last word of the statement made yesterday by Royal Bank of Scotland on the pension arrangements of its former chief executive was intensely scrutinised by lawyers acting for the bank and for Sir Fred Goodwin. This is a deal carefully stitched together in an attempt to salvage something for all sides from the car wreck that is the issue of Sir Fred's pension.

RBS's announcement paints both parties in the best possible light. Sir Fred, we learn, was a respected banker who has already taken his fair share of the blame for the near collapse of RBS and who is now doing the decent thing with good grace. The bank, meanwhile, has apparently been working on a resolution to the row since February and is now pleased to be able to get back to focusing on customers.

Well, that's alright then. No mention of the bitterness that friends of Sir Fred maintain he still feels about his treatment following the crisis at RBS, or of the fury at the bank itself over the millstone this row became. And certainly no mention of the Government's part in the debacle – specifically that of the City minister, Lord Myners – about whose role in clearing Sir Fred's pension deal the exact detail still remains unclear (his account is at odds with the version of events given by some of the other protagonists in the affair).

For the record, Sir Fred is handing back just over half the notional value of the pension enhancement he received when leaving RBS. Under the terms of the bank's pension scheme, Sir Fred was eligible, on early retirement, for the same pension rights at age 50 as he would have got had he stayed at the bank until age 60. That boost more than doubled the cost to RBS of providing Sir Fred's pension, from £8m to £16.6m. Yesterday's concession will see that figure come down by £4.7m, RBS said.

It's hardly a complete victory for Sir Fred's many critics, and there will be plenty of people – including those RBS workers who have lost their jobs as the bank seeks a return to profit – who will continue to feel great anger about this affair.

All that said, however, this settlement should finally give us an opportunity to move on from a scandal blown out of all proportion. Sir Fred has been the victim of a ludicrous witch-hunt that has made fools of people who should know better. He certainly made a pig's ear of running RBS in his last couple of years at the bank. And the pension business makes him look greedy. But that hardly excuses the behaviour of the mindless yobs who vandalised his home, let alone justifying the action of those who threatened his family.

Nor should those who encouraged the mob escape their share of the blame, particularly those politicians who were only to happy for Sir Fred to become the poster boy of the credit crisis if it distracted attention from the failure of the regulatory system or the economic policies that fuelled the lending boom.

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, no less, waded into the row with the most asinine contribution of all. Sir Fred, said Harriet Harman, might be on strong legal grounds, but his pension deal was "not enforceable in the court of public opinion, and that is where the government steps in".

That, of course, was back in the good old days, when we didn't know quite so much about the extent to which Ms Harman's colleagues had been busy cutting their own deals concerning enhanced remuneration packages. No doubt they too have since learned a thing or two about being subjected to some tricky questions, not to mention the good old court of public opinion. It's not so much fun when you're on the receiving end of mob justice.

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