Former Bradford & Bingley boss fine slashed

 

The City regulator has slashed a fine to be paid by the former finance director of failed bank Bradford & Bingley to a fraction of the £150,000 penalty initially proposed.

Christopher Willford - who previously lost a legal fight to keep his name secret - has instead been ordered to pay £30,000 for failings ahead of a £300 million rights issue at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

In May 2010, regulators had proposed a £150,000 fine but following submissions from lawyers and a tribunal hearing where he gave evidence this was cut to £100,000.

Now, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has narrowed the scope and timing of the misconduct to three days in May 2008 while acknowledging that he was under intense pressure.

It said it did not find that Mr Willford's conduct caused the failure of the rights issue or the subsequent nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley at its collapse in September.

The FCA did find he had failed to provide the board with up-to-date information about the bank's financial position ahead of the rights issue.

On May 16 2008, he received information suggesting the bank's financial outlook might be weaker than expected.

Bad mortgages debts, arrears and repossessions had all risen while there were indications profits would struggle to achieve expectations.

Since the bank was preparing to raise capital through a rights issue, this should have immediately been raised with the board and investigated to ensure that the information provided to shareholders about the rights issue on May 19 was correct.

Tracey McDermott, the FCA's director of financial crime and enforcement, said: "Willford failed to identify and investigate potentially material risks, or alert the board, at a crucial time for the firm.

"His conduct fell short of the FCA's standards - senior managers should expect the FCA to take action if they fail to show due skill, care and diligence."

The FCA said the size of the fine "reflects the length and timing of the misconduct, which took place over three days during the height of the financial crisis".

This was described as a "short but intensely busy period of time", while Mr Willford was under great pressure amid the financial crisis and the need for the rights issue to shore up the bank's balance sheet to be carried out without delay.

The pressure was exacerbated by the serious illness to chief executive Steven Crawshaw which saw him step down shortly afterwards.

Mr Willford was finance director of Bradford & Bingley between October 2005 and June 2009.

A decision notice imposing a fine of £100,000 on him was served by regulators in October 2010, but Mr Willford launched a judicial review claiming it was unfair.

A High Court judge found in his favour but the decision was overturned in June this year by the Court of Appeal, which also rejected his request to publish its judgment in a "redacted and anonymised" form.

The FCA today announced the reduced penalty of £30,000, which must be paid in full by Christmas Day.

Lawyers for Mr Willford declined to comment.

PA

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