James Moore: While directors of Farepak had an early Christmas, it was ruined for savers

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The Independent Online

Outlook: Christmas has come six months early for the directors in charge when Farepak sank, and now it looks like the party could be paid for by the taxpayer. Those directors – including the former CBI President and Rentokil boss Sir Clive Thompson – will presumably be looking to someone to pay their legal fees incurred as a result of the failed attempt by the Business Secretary Vince Cable and the Insolvency Service to disqualify them as directors.

It floundered when a judge said they "did everything" so far as he could see, to save the group.

That apparently included trying to set up a trust to protect savers' money, which was blocked by HBoS. It loaned millions to Farepak's parent and wanted to be sure that it got all its money back in stark contrast to the people who saved their "Doris" money (to use the words of HBOS bankers) with the hamper company, which was also loaned to the parent company.

A happy Christmas for the bankers handling the loan, too, then, until the bank's near collapse and its Government-engineered rescue by Lloyds Banking Group. Which was itself then bailed out. Because depositers with banks have to be protected. Depositers with hamper companies, many of whom are probably among the legion of unwanted "unbanked", do not.

And so the Farepak savers' increasingly vain battle for some sort of justice goes on as the stench from this simply appalling affair lingers, getting worse by the day.

There are parallels with the financial crisis here. Collectively, the banking industry wrecked the economy of this country and yet no one has really been brought to book. Just about the only penalties were the loss of a knighthood handed to Fred Goodwin, the RBS boss at the time of its near collapse, and his sidekick Johnny Cameron voluntarily agreeing to a ban from the City.

Peter Cummings, the HBOS banker revealed as the ultimate arbiter of what happened to the "Doris money", is busily fighting a similar ban. Some people have no shame.

Farepak? It just wrecked Christmas for people who could have used a bit of seasonal cheer.

If you go into a bank branch or a savings club with a cudgel and a tin of spray paint and wreck the thing you go to jail. If you wear a suit and a tie you retire to a mansion with a comfy pension and get to bitch to your friends about how mean people are being to you at the golf club.

Businessmen who whine about a supposed "anti-business climate" in this country might perhaps like to reflect on this.

The Farepak directors should not feel vindicated. HBOS might have tipped it over the edge but they still had oversight over a business model that was deeply flawed and left their customers high and dry.

In the meantime, talk about tightening the regulation of the sector has proved to be just that. Five specialist firms plus the Post Office are members of a trade association that requires savers' money to be held in a trust, half of whose trustees must be independent.

But it is entirely voluntary and there has been no such move on the part of the supermarkets, which are major players in the market.

Mr Cable has been accused of getting egg all over his face from this case. Taking action to prevent a repeat might remove some of it.

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