Belfast Telegraph

Decade-long battle with Ulster Bank made me feel suicidal, says businessman

 

By John Mulgrew

A Northern Ireland man says he faced suicide amid an ongoing 10-year battle with Ulster Bank which took over and effectively shut down his business.

Sean Magee says he has been in court around 30 times with Ulster Bank, after it took control of his property business in 2008.

His firm, Browning Developments, was then taken over by Ulster Bank's owner, RBS's now disgraced Global Restructuring Group (GRG) in 2013.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he alleged that "as far as I'm concerned they crashed the business into the wall".

He says his company was in a healthy state, but that when the GRG took over, it ran the business into the ground.

The west Belfast man (55) is one of the few Northern Ireland businessmen to speak out about the GRG.

"This has been going on 10 years - this is our 10th Christmas. Christmas doesn't mean very much to my family. We are in a permanent winter," he said.

"When Ulster Bank took control of the company, it was like someone had switched off the lights. It had profound consequences for me and my family, my personal life, my future hopes and dreams were destroyed, and my mental and physical health were seriously affected.

"I became suicidal. I credit my GP and a wonderful counsellor for saving my life. She kept me alive.

"My last conversation with my father was in 2009. I'm trying to assure him everything is going to be all right, and he's lying on his death bed."

His lengthy legal battle is centred around Ulster Bank's claim that it is owed money from Mr Magee over a personal guarantee with his company.

The firm at that point was centred around an apartment development on Blacks Road, which he then owned.

The limited company still exists, but Mr Magee said it is now just "a husk".

He has been in court around 30 times, but in September, Mr Magee was successful in some part, with a judge ruling against Ulster Bank's attempt to strike out the case.

It is understood Ulster Bank has since appealed that decision.

Almost 6,000 small and medium-sized companies went through GRG between 2008 and 2013.

RBS, which is 71% owned by the taxpayer, was found to have "systematically" mistreated businesses by an FCA review commissioned in 2014.

"Four years in December and I still don't have a date for a hearing. That's an affront to my human rights," Mr Magee said.

He has been a customer with Ulster Bank since 1994.

The former St Mary's Christian Brothers' pupil left school at 15 before starting an apprenticeship as a joiner soon after, and earning his living in the trade. He has also met with the Human Rights Commission over the impact he says the situation is having on him.

And he is asking for those who may have worked with the GRG to come forward.

"I ended up suicidal. I wanted to die. I wanted to get out. I could see no other way out. It was like being in a shark's mouth. There is no reasoning with a shark," he said.

Mr Magee wants RBS boss Ross McEwan to "face up" to what the bank has done and "compensate the people whose lives were destroyed".

A long-awaited summary report from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has said the bank's "inappropriate treatment" of small business customers included poor and in some cases "misleading" communication.

A leaked report earlier this year found "inappropriate action" by GRG, which was experienced by more than 90% of the "viable firms" they dealt with.

But the report from the FCA said it did not "profit from their distress".

Mr Magee said: "We never missed a payment. I did nothing wrong."

Ulster Bank did not wish to comment.

Belfast Telegraph