Nigel Green and Yvonne Challis could face ruin after their attempt to win compensation failed, leaving them with a bill for pounds 350,000 for taking on one of Britain's biggest high-street banks.
The pair started the legal fight when a replacement branch manager saw they had a huge business overdraft and immediately called in the debt.
However, a judge at the High Court in Cardiff yesterday rejected their compensation claim and ordered them to pay a total of pounds 311,000 in overdraft, loans and interest. They were also told to pay the costs of the hearing estimated at pounds 30,000.
Banking pressure groups last night said the defeat would not derail their campaign for laws to regulate the banking industry more tightly.
Mr Green, 42, and Ms Challis, 41, of Llanllwni, Dyfed, had sought pounds 1m in compensation, claiming that their riding school and haulage businesses were wrecked by the bank's decision to demand repayment.
But Judge Michael Gibbon ruled that the bank was entitled to call in its overdrafts. He said that the bank "took the view that further funding of the business would be throwing good money after bad". He ruled that Mr Green should pay pounds 207,000 and Ms Challis pounds 104,000, with both sums including interest.
Mr Green said: "We had complete and utter trust in the bank manager. We feel badly let down. We knew we were tackling a giant when we took on the bank but we felt confident in the justice of our case."
Mr Green and Ms Challis added that they had issued writs against Barclays, claiming that they were given bad advice by the bank branch manager.
A Barclays spokesman said yesterday: "We are pleased with the judgment but regret we had to bring the case at all. Legal action followed a number of attempts over the past three years by the bank to resolve the dispute and recover the outstanding sums."
Richard Brown, deputy director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that banks were providing an "increasingly good service" and that managers should not be prevented from being able to call in loans.
But commenting on yesterday's case, Mr Brown added: "We deplore any lender who does not exercise discretion and acts with intemperate expedience without offering alternative solutions."Reuse content