Tear-jerker finale to couple's £1m battle with bank

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The epic battle between the Weatherills and their bank, Lloyds TSB, which is to be made into a film next year, reached its tear-jerking climax in the High Court yesterday

The epic battle between the Weatherills and their bank, Lloyds TSB, which is to be made into a film next year, reached its tear-jerking climax in the High Court yesterday

The plot, according Eddy and Brenda Weatherill, begins with their bank manager "encouraging" them to remortgage their home. He promptly confiscated the money to cover their business debt, leaving their company to collapse. At least six attempts to repossess their home followed.

The story has lots of what scriptwriters call colour. Mrs Weatherill is in a wheelchair, suffering from multiple sclerosis. During their battle for £1m in damages, the couple had tea with a former prime minister, John Major, their constituency MP, and met with representatives of the Bank of England. And that's not to mention the Judge who had shares in the very bank they were fighting for compensation.

The Weatherills began their campaign after the failure of their commercial interiors company in 1991. They accused the bank of dishonestly encouraging them to remortgage their Cambridgeshire home to pay for an extension, then confiscating the money to pay off their business overdraft before cancelling the facility.

But in a damning judgment, Mr Justice Wright said that they had been economical with the truth and awarded them just £1,000 in respect of cheques which the bank admitted had been wrongly dishonoured. He also awarded the bank £75,000 interim costs pending a full costs assessment.

The Weatherills had been "prepared to be economical with the truth" in their remortgage application, he said. "It is apparent that the claimants, who are willing to make allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation and deceit against the officers of the bank, were in fact guilty of just that kind of misconduct themselves.

"It seems clear to me that Mr Weatherill, at least, has become entirely obsessed, almost to the point of paranoia, with his now unshakable belief that it is the bank which is to blame for the financial difficulties that his business got into ."

The Weatherills had thrown themselves into a David and Goliath-style battle, against the banking industry. Their struggle to win compensation led to the formation of the Independent Banking Advisory Service (Ibas), which campaigns for others who have suffered at the hands of the high street banks. They received 5,600 complaints in less than a year. "These people are coming to us because they have taken their troubles to the banks and got little or no response," Mr Weatherill said.

During the past nine years, the Weatherills have faced the bailiffs numerous times. Their cars and some of the contents of their home, North View, in Somersham near Huntingdon, have been repossessed. Shortly before their High Court hearing began, Legal Aid was withdrawn and they had to represent themselves.

Just when it seemed the plot could not possibly thicken any further, the Judge realised, three weeks into the hearing and just before the closing speeches, that he had shares in Lloyds TSB worth £3,500. After he sold them, the Weatherills' demand for a retrial were denied by the Court of Appeal.

At the start of the case, Mr Weatherill told the court: "The bank was willing to dump us, dump the business, take the money and run."

In 1988, the couple presented a five-year business plan for their company, Interior Images, to the manager of the Lloyds branch at St Ives, Cambridgeshire, who granted them a £20,000 overdraft facility. This was increased to £40,000 in 1991 by the manager's successor, John Ausberger.

The Weatherills claimed Mr Ausberger backed their remortgage application by writing a favourable reference to their mortgage company, Barclays, even though he knew the business was failing. That raised £142,000, some of which was retained to add value to the house by building an extension. The remainder was used by Mr Ausberger to pay off the business overdraft, Mr Weatherill said. "He gave a reference to Barclays, which he knew was unreasonable, because he knew if he could get Barclays to advance this money it would clear the overdraft," Mr Weatherill told the court.

"He knew there would be no money left to inject into the company and he was fully aware the business would fail immediately he removed the overdraft. He wanted our business to fail."

The judge seemed to agree saying: "Mr Ausberger saw a rabbit hole and went down it like a ferret."

The draft of Mrs Weatherill's book, Adversity - A Way of Life, was snapped up by a publisher and the rights sold to Avalon Films which is due to start shooting before the end of the year. The book is being delayed to allow Mrs Weatherill to write a final chapter about the film and the outcome of the court case.