Belfast Telegraph

'Obsessed' Ulster Bank official sent Facebook request to Taggart brother's wife, court hears

Former property developers claim Ulster Bank's alleged negligence contributed to business failure

By Alan Erwin

A senior Ulster Bank official sent a Facebook friend request to the wife of former property magnate Michael Taggart as part of an alleged "obsession" with the housebuilding firm, the High Court heard today.

Gary Barr's personal animosity and "hatred" for everything to do with the Taggart Group extended to accessing the woman's  social media account, it was claimed.

He emphatically denied the accusations, insisting the request was sent inadvertently during online research for the multi-million pound case.

Mr Taggart and his brother John are suing Ulster Bank for alleged negligence and improper conduct they say contributed to the fall of their business empire.

The company had been a massive operation on either side of the Irish border, with further interests in Britain, Europe and the United States.

But it was decimated in the 2007 property market crash. A year later the group went into administration.

In a claim for millions of pounds in damages the brothers, from Co Derry, allege 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.

The bank has lodged counter writs for £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.

Mr Barr, who has been with Ulster Bank for 14 years, was part of the relationship management team dealing with the Taggart account prior to the firm's collapse.

Under cross-examination by Gerald Simpson QC, for the brothers, he was asked about accessing Mrs Taggart's Facebook page in January last year.

The action had been due to get underway at that stage, only to be put back due to John Taggart's health.

"Why on earth were you, as a witness in the bank's case, seeking to go to the personal Facebook page of the wife of a defendant in that case?" asked Mr Simpson.

The bank official insisted it was among a series of links thrown up by an internet search, all of which he said he clicked on.

But Mr Simpson claimed there was another motive behind looking at the social media page of his client's wife.

He put it to him: "I suggest to you that you have a personal animosity against the Taggarts and that includes relatives, that you hate these people, that you became obsessed by them."

Categorically rejecting the allegation, Mr Barr replied that it came up in a search carried out as part of his preparations for the case.

However, according to the Taggarts' barrister he was looking at every aspect of his clients' lives, trying to see if it would "do some damage" to their case.

He specifically alleged the bank representative was seeking any reference to John Taggart having attended a party at a time when he was said to be unwell.

On being told it was nothing more than a coincidence, Mr Simpson asked: "Is it just a coincidence you asked to be a friend?"

Mr Barr responded: "That was not done deliberately.

"I remember getting a message from the lady asking if we had worked together before and I remember at that point being shocked.

"The implication of the message was I had put the friend request in and I was not aware."

As the exchanges continued Mr Simpson said: "I suggest all of this is just lies."

Despite Mr Barr "strongly refuting" the accusation, the barrister insisted: "It's a lie. It show's you're an obsessed man obsessed by the Taggarts."

The hearing continues.

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