Northern Rock shareholders stage protests outside branches
Published 12/01/2009 | 16:57
Angry Northern Rock shareholders took part in demonstrations today ahead of a court hearing into levels of Government compensation.
A bus load of small shareholders protested outside three branches of the nationalised bank in central London before moving on to the Treasury and the House of Commons.
They accused the Government of "sacrificing" ordinary people, saying investors - many of them pensioners - will receive little or no money back for their shares.
At a judicial review in the High Court, which starts tomorrow, the shareholders will argue a Government-commissioned valuation of shares is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
They will argue the Treasury's criteria for valuing the shares falsely assume the bank was in administration, was no longer a going concern and was no longer receiving financial assistance.
And they will contrast the Government's conduct in the Northern Rock rescue with its later acquisition of stakes in other banks, such as Bradford & Bingley, whose shareholders were not wiped out.
The case is based on the principle, enshrined in human rights law, that the taking of property by the State without payment of an amount reasonably related to its value will normally constitute a disproportionate interference with property rights.
It is being brought by three shareholder groups - hedge funds SRM Global and RAB Capital, as well as a representative group of private shareholders supported by the UK Shareholder Action Group (UKSA), which organised today's activities.
More than 30 demonstrators, including former Northern Rock employees, took part in the demonstrations.
They waved placards and queued outside branches - a reminder of the scenes in September 2007 when long lines of savers queued to withdraw their money.
Dennis Grainger, 62, from Cramlington in Northumberland, the lead claimant for the small shareholders, said it was the "small people" who would lose the most.
"They are not speculators and they are not playing the markets, but they are older people who are using their dividend income to supplement their meagre pensions.
"In some cases the shares were a nest egg for sons and daughters, families and grandchildren."
Mr Grainger, who worked as an assistant in finance at Northern Rock for 10 years, estimates he will lose a total of £114,000 in shares.
"Now it looks as though the shares are worth nothing. I'm not fighting the compensation because I lost the money myself, it's because I don't like the idea that the small people, the salt of the earth people, have been rubbished by the Government.
"A lot of people feel they've been sacrificed on the cross of other financial mismanagement in the City.
"All we're looking for is to be treated fairly, but the Government are refusing to back down and admit they've made a mistake."
A valuation expert appointed by the shareholders has valued Northern Rock shares, at the time of nationalisation, at no lower than £3 each and probably much more.
The same expert concluded that applying the false assumption that Northern Rock was in administration would almost inevitably result in a nil valuation.
Chair of the UKSA Roger Lawson, 63, from Chislehurst in south-east London, said: "Clearly the Government wants to pay nothing. The company was not bust, it was not in administration and yet the Government chooses to nationalise it. They should pay compensation."
Doreen Shannon, 53, from Fulwell in Sunderland, whose husband worked for Northern Rock for 20 years as an analyst, said their retirement plans, which included a trip to Australia to visit family, were "up the spout".
The former IT lecturer at South Tyneside College said: "We think the Government is acting totally unfairly and treating Northern Rock totally differently from the way it's treating the other banks. Is that because it's a northern bank?
"We planned our retirement specifically with our savings in mind. The Government is taking our property and is dictating to us how much we will get for that property."
The hearing is scheduled to last three-and-a-half-days.
If the Government loses, it will be forced to reconsider the terms of reference given to valuers so as to reflect what the shareholders say is the true value.