Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland couple vow to fight Danske bank after losing everything

Hubert and Marjorie Armstrong
Hubert and Marjorie Armstrong
Marjorie with reporter Brett Campbell

BY BRETT CAMPBELL

An elderly couple who claim they have lost everything following a mistake by a major bank are hoping to claw back some of their fortune.

Hubert Armstrong (76) and his wife Marjorie (74) will take their peaceful protest to Danske Bank's city centre branch today as they continue to fight back.

The couple, whose case is being championed by an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) in Westminster, lost their business and family home following a major blunder in 2009.

"We put up £1.25m and Northern Bank (now Danske) advanced us the same amount to buy a site at Fashoda Street in east Belfast to build 47 homes on," Mr Armstrong explained.

"But we later found out that the Northern Bank surveyor totally overlooked the fact that we were not allowed to build on the land because it was a brownfield site.

"They gave us no time to come up with a solution or make necessary planning applications. Instead they started stripping us of assets."

Danske subsequently took an additional charge of £300,000 on the couple's £2.1m home on Ballycoan Road in Carryduff, which was eventually repossessed by another lender.

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By 2010 their successful company, Moorcroft Estates Ltd, had become insolvent.

Four years later the couple were declared bankrupt when they were suffering from poor health and had no assets left.

"I spent years being ashamed of what happened to us," Mrs Armstrong said.

"I was even on the verge of suicide and my husband was chronically depressed.

"Then we realised - this is not our shame to bear, it is Danske who should be ashamed.

"They sold us a pig in a poke and have ruined our lives."

Mrs Armstrong said they lost much more than their "dream home".

She added: "We nearly lost both our children who we employed.

"Our daughter has had to move to New Zealand and now we only see her and the kids on a phone screen."

Mr and Mrs Armstrong, who are currently living in a rental property in Ballywalter, Co Down, were further outraged when Danske sold the Fashoda Street site for £67,000 following their 2014 bankruptcy.

"That's a fraction of what we paid for it," Mr Armstrong said.

The buyer sold it within a year for £200,000.

"We are living on a state pension - that's all we have been left with," Mrs Armstrong said.

"They didn't even leave us with enough money to cover our funeral expenses."

Their case has been cited by APPG member and DUP MP Jim Shannon who described their story as a "nightmare" in the House of Commons last year.

Dr Fiona Sherriff, Director of Communications for the APPG on Fair Business Banking, said the successful family company was "tragically" driven into insolvency and administration as a direct result of an incorrect valuation by the bank's surveyor.

"The traumatic experience exacerbated chronic clinical depression in Mr Armstrong," she added.

"Despite being aware of this, Danske Bank, for no financial gain, pursued both husband and wife into bankruptcy.

"Because the Armstrongs are no longer directors of their company they cannot pursue any claim against the surveyor or the bank, even though both are directly responsible for their situation."

The APPG group summarised the three main points in the case:

  • The conduct of the surveyor who Danske appointed to value the land and an error in his duty of care to advise that the site was "brownfield".
  • The timing of the bankruptcy as declared by Danske (concerns due to health issues).
  • That a site purchased for £2.5m was sold for £67,000 in December 2014 and then sold on for over £200,000 a year later.

Mr and Mrs Armstrong argue that Danske could have pursued a claim against the now deceased surveyor who had a £1m professional indemnity insurance.

"They didn't even try," Mrs Armstrong said.

"They just came after us because it was easy and we had no money to defend ourselves," she added.

Under current insolvency laws ex-directors are powerless against lender misconduct - even if such misconduct led to their insolvency.

However, the couple are optimistic that their long fight is almost over after Dankse agreed to sit down and talk.

"Danske Bank has had an ongoing dialogue with Mr and Mrs Armstrong for some time regarding the dissolution of their property development business, Moorcroft Estates Ltd, in 2010," a spokesperson for Danske said.

"We strongly disagree with the allegations made against us, but we are keen to find a resolution to their complaint.

"Several weeks ago we proposed, through our legal advisors, to progress the determination of this dispute via a fair and independent binding dispute resolution process.

"This is currently being considered by their legal advisors.

"We also offered to cover reasonable legal fees they may incur as part of this process.

"Given our continued willingness to engage, and the offer of an independent mediation process, the Armstrongs' decision to continue their protest is disappointing."

However, Mr Shannon said yesterday that Danske has been reluctant to discuss the "mind boggling" case for several years now.

And Mr Armstrong defended his decision to keep fighting for all the other people who have been forced to live out the same horror story.

"There are a dozen people protesting across cities in the UK this week and a dozen more next week," he said.

"We have been battling for years before to get the bank to go into mediation with us and we welcome it.

"But we will continue with our protest because we are no longer fighting for ourselves."

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