Credit Lyonnais fire fuels fear of collapse

The headquarters of France's second biggest bank, the ill-starred Credit Lyonnais, was still smouldering yesterday, a charred grey skeleton scarring the centre of the Paris business district, after the fire that all but destroyed it the day before. With fire engines and police on all four sides, damp grey hoses curling out of every entrance and the small of burning heavy in the air, it was a pitiful scene.

Senior managers moved the operations of the bank to emergency headquarters on the north-west edge of Paris and distributed other functions across the world, in an instant demonstration of what new technology can do. They claimed there was little disruption to services. Bank staff who turned up in the morning, for want of other instructions, showed more emotion.

Some lamented the loss of the spectacular and recently restored interior of the building, which dated from the turn of the century. Others feared that the fire would prove the death knell for the bank, which registered a tiny profit last year after being saved from bankruptcy in 1994 following a series of disastrous investment decisions and losses of 12bn francs (pounds 1.5bn). What had Credit Lyonnais done so wrong, a young secretary asked, to have had yet another misfortune visited on it?

Across the road from the northern facade of the bank, which suffered least from the fire, a shifting crowd of people, many of them elderly and most of them worried, pressed around a white Credit Lyonnais van. This van, familiar to almost everyone in France from its ubiquitous presence at the Tour de France cycle race, was labelled "Reception" and plastered over with stickers advertising an emergency telephone number.

By afternoon, bank staff - all with badges showing their name and department - had given up working from inside the van and were out in the crowd, addressing queries from all comers. Many came from little old ladies, with grey hair, glasses and sensible shoes, terrified their life's savings had gone up in smoke with the bank. One or two, close to tears and shielding their faces from the television cameras, were even resigned to that eventuality, as though their life-long fear - the collapse of the bank - had finally come about.

A cynical woman in middle age said she did not believe a word of the patient reassurance a uniformed member of staff had just given her.

Reflecting the widespread popular disdain in France for the government's Fr50bn bail-out of Credit Lyonnais, she said that the fire would be a pretext for winding up the bank and cheating the investors.

One man was concerned about his safe deposit box and asked why the police had prevented him from entering the building to recover it.

Luc Durieux, from the communications department, explained gently that no one was being allowed in for safety reasons, that elaborate security precautions were in place and that he would be informed as soon as access was possible.

Shortly before, the head of the bank, Jean Peyrelevade, issued a statement saying the fire had not penetrated the first basement which housed the strong room and that water was not believed to have penetrated any of the 9,000 deposit boxes.

Mr Peyrelevade also expressed the plaintive hope that this latest disaster might make people think more kindly of the bank in future.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick