Belfast Telegraph

Former property magnate accused of lying in court over claims he never received bank letters calling in millions of pounds in personal guarantees

By Alan Erwin

A former property magnate was accused of lying in court today over claims he never received bank letters calling in millions of pounds in personal guarantees.

Senior counsel for the Ulster Bank challenged Michael Taggart's honesty after the businessman alleged the demands for payment had been fabricated.

Amid tense exchanges Stephen Shaw QC put it to him: "You're a liar because if you had not received them you would have been shouting from the rooftops and you never breathed a word of it."

As his cross-examination ended after 16 days in the witness box at the High Court in Belfast, Mr Taggart denied the accusation and a separate assertion that he thought he was "smarter than the market".

The one-time tycoon and his brother John Taggart are suing Ulster Bank for alleged negligence and improper conduct which they say contributed to the fall of their house-building empire.

The Taggart Group had been a massive operation with developments on both sides of the Irish border, Britain and further interests in the United States.

But it was decimated when the property market crashed in 2007. A year later the company went into administration.

The brothers, from Co Derry, claim they were kept in the dark about credit concerns within the bank.

Had they been warned, they contend, assets could have been sold to off-set loans.

In a counterclaim, Ulster Bank is seeking £5million (sterling) and 4.3million euros it says the Taggarts owe in personal guarantees over land purchases in Kinsealy, north Co Dublin and in Northern Ireland.

Continuing his evidence in the case, Mr Taggart insisted that neither he nor his brother did not received letters allegedly sent from the bank in September 2008 to call in the guarantees.  

He told Mr Justice Burgess: "We never got them, and that's not the only letters that have been, in my opinion, fabricated."

But Mr Shaw argued that no mention of any non-receipt featured in the Taggarts' statements for the case.

Questioning the businessman's honesty, the barrister insisted he would have already "told the world" the bank was not entitled to the guarantees because demands were never served.

"I have said you were a liar about guarantees being called up, that's not something counsel does lightly," he said.

Mr Taggart replied: "I do not accept what Mr Shaw is putting to me, and if there's one thing I'm not in my life is a liar."

The court also heard how he claimed in a press interview that he thought the market had bottomed out in July 2008.

Mr Shaw suggested he was "standing solitary against the world" at that time.

The barrister said bank witnesses will claim Mr Taggart adopted a relaxed and indifferent air at meetings, looking out the window and not paying attention to what was being discussed.

"I don't agree with that, we were in a work out situation since October," the former company boss insisted.

"The banks were charging us £40,000 a month and we were reporting on a daily basis."

But Mr Shaw maintained: "You were someone who thought that you were smarter than the market and other people, and that you had no difficulty in riding out this storm. Isn't that right?"

Again the witness rejected the assessment being put to him.

He told his own counsel, Gerald Simpson QC, that the Taggart Group would not have come under the same pressures if the bank's concerns had been relayed in Spring 2007.

"It wouldn't have been just me, it would have been each and every director in the company," he said.

"There would have been uproar. many of the things that happened would never have happened."

The case was adjourned until the New Year.

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