Farepak chairman claims bankers 'hung him out to dry'

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The Independent Online

The company that owns Farepak, the Christmas savings club, was "hung out to dry" by its bankers, its chairman claims.

Sir Clive Thompson, of European Home Retail (EHR), broke his silence over the affair by saying he was "disgusted" by the bank's behaviour. He said Halifax Bank of Scotland had been offered five proposed rescue packages between May and October.

He told the Sunday Telegraph, that HBOS had refused to support the hamper and voucher firm, which is based in Swindon, because of a £1.5m shortfall. It had also refused a request to "ring fence" the savers' money.

"I have sat on the board of six FTSE 100 companies, but never have I seen such behaviour as this," he said. "If this is typical of the way HBOS treats small companies I am disgusted."

Sir Clive said he would be contributing to the Farepak Response Fund, set up by the Government to help alleviate some of the savers' losses.

The firm went into administration in October, condemning an estimated 150,000 people, mostly on low incomes, to lose money they had set aside for Christmas.

HBOS, which has donated £2m to the response fund, was quick to defend itself yesterday, saying EHR's management had failed to find a viable solution to the crisis. A spokesman for the bank said: "The EHR directors would have been aware that any request by them to ringfence Farepak customer monies was not a serious request on their part. That money had already been used by them: there were no funds to ringfence."

He added: "HBOS stood behind EHR right through a difficult five months when the company had significant financial problems." He said throughout this period the firm had been supported by an overdraft facility - and been aided by HBOS as it attempted to find a solution.

"Unfortunately, none of the proposals put forward by the management, particularly given the absence of any additional funding by the owners of EHR, provided that viable solution," he added.

Jim Devine, the Labour MP for Livingston, said he had asked the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee to question Sir Clive and HBOS about the crisis, in which £35m worth of savings were wiped out. The Department of Trade and Industry has already launched an investigation.

Savers with Farepak are understood to have lost about £400 each on average - with some losing up to £2,000.

Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Morrison have pledged to donate money to the response fund. The Christmas hamper supplier Park Group is donating £1m of high street vouchers to the fund and Sainsbury's and John Lewis have agreed that Farepak customers can get 25 per cent of the value of their savings in vouchers for their stores.