I made a mistake, says the carpetbagger king

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The Independent Online
Michael Hardern, the man who promised punters millions of pounds, has taken it all back. A freelance butler, Mr Hardern cancelled his plans to force the Nationwide Building Society to convert into a bank. He had, he apologised, "made a mistake".

To the thousands of carpetbaggers who, drunk on windfalls from other converting building societies, had ploughed money into the society, it was a big mistake. Mr Hardern and his group of rebels had promised that savers would get pounds 1,000 apiece if he pulled off his plan to force the society to follow the Halifax in becoming a bank.

He and four others are still standing for election to the Nationwide board and the result of voting will be announced on 24 July.

As a result of their campaign, the society had stopped taking deposits.

He explained his dramatic U-turn yesterday at a press conference for City journalists in central London. "I was wrong. I made a mistake," he said. The Nationwide becoming a bank "does not make sense at the moment. People don't like banks, people hate banks, they loath and detest banks".

He outlined his vision for the society and said he would like to see it selling Internet terminals and perhaps items such as coffee, cars and holidays.

He said the Nationwide's chief executive, Brian Davis, had "convinced me there is something in mutuality", but insisted that members would still receive pounds 1,000 each.

Responding to Mr Hardern's announcement, a Nationwide spokesman said: "If it is true, we are very pleased to hear he supports our belief that our customers are better-off with us being a building society."