At War with the Bank Spotlight


At War with the Bank

Mandy McAuley investigates an extraordinary clash between the Bank of Ireland and a Tyrone businessman who secretly recorded bank officials.


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Transcript


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Meteor Electrical had 200 people working.

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We had 45 lorries on the road.

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Can you remember the day you decided to throw the towel in?

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I try very hard not to remember it.

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See them last few months, you know,

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when the house goes back on the line,

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everything goes back on the line,

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you're using your credit cards

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to try to get money for wages.

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So far, so familiar.

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A once-thriving business going under in the recession.

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But this is a story with a difference.

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Because what happened next between this man and his bank

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has been captured on secret video recordings.

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I am sure they have hundreds and hundreds of customers

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making allegations. But I am not making allegations,

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there is video evidence of their people

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doing what they employed them to do.

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We've looked at hours of footage, which we're broadcasting tonight

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for the very first time.

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Really quite extraordinary, wasn't it?

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It's bank officials recorded on tape doing something that clearly

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they shouldn't have been doing.

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It's lethal. It's dynamite.

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We haven't seen anything like it before.

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That bit of video footage is the only thing that separates me

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from hundreds of others, because, like, nobody would believe

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if I was trying to tell that story.

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This programme contains strong language.

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MAN LAUGHS

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-How are you?

-How are things?

-Not so bad.

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You're taking my hand, eh?

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John Conway's electrical supplies company used to sponsor

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the Derry City football team.

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Where's my onions? No onions?

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How are you? Healthy eating(!)

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These days, he and his sons attend matches

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through the turnstiles, like everyone else.

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There are no Meteor signs still round here.

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At its height, John Conway's company, Meteor Controls,

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had an annual turnover of £24 million.

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He admits his company's financial difficulties began when

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sterling collapsed seven years ago,

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and that, coupled with a major recession

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in the construction industry, threw his business into crisis.

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Most of our purchases were in US dollar,

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but most of our sales were in euro.

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Sterling was in a nosedive and that

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cost us an awful lot of money.

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The odds were against him.

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But Conway thinks his business might have survived

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these catastrophic events if it hadn't been

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for the added pressure from one bank

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he did business with, the Bank of Ireland.

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This wasn't the responsibility of the bank.

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You know, the industry was tightening,

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we had to keep cutting back so we remained profitable,

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but it was this other stuff that was going on in the background,

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the bank stuff, which was the stuff that, really, we couldn't manage.

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Over 200 years ago, Bank of Ireland was founded

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on the principle of supporting and guiding our customers.

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We recognise that for the last few years, however,

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the waters have been particularly stormy.

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The bank may advertise their supporting role,

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but John Conway says this wasn't his experience

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when things got rough at Meteor.

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You could never get money released.

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Money would be sitting in the account, there was

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a continuous thing of saying, "Yes, we will transfer 50,000 tomorrow."

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The money wouldn't be transferred.

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You couldn't get anybody on the phone,

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they wouldn't answer the phone,

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and then you'd get an apology the next day.

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John Conway has shown us some of the e-mails exchanged between Meteor

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and Bank of Ireland during the period before the company went to the wall.

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They give a flavour of his frustration at cash-flow problems

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caused by the bank,

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a claim Bank of Ireland rejects.

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Four payment requests last week not actioned.

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I have been let down yet again by a transfer not going...

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So here we have a bank - broke itself at this stage -

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that, for whatever reason, was frequently missing deadlines

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and holding on to what, to Meteor, were large amounts of cash,

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making it even more difficult for a company

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that was struggling to survive.

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Tonight on Spotlight, we bring you the secret recordings

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we had to fight in court to broadcast.

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And we reveal an extraordinary battle

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between businessman John Conway and his former bankers.

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He secretly recorded tapes that he says expose how elements

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within the Commercial Finance Department of Bank of Ireland

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were willing to go to any lengths to claw back money for the bank,

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including one employee attempting fraud.

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The bank, in turn, accuse John Conway's firm of fraud.

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So what do the tapes really reveal, and what do they show us about

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how some Bank of Ireland officials operated behind closed doors?

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MUFFLED VOICES IN FOOTAGE

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John Conway believes that if he hadn't secretly recorded

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Bank of Ireland employees after Meteor's collapse,

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the subsequent criminal behaviour

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he says he uncovered would never have come to light.

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The Cookstown firm Meteor Electrical has ceased trading

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with the loss of 70 jobs.

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The company has gone into administration.

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Meteor is Ireland's largest independent electrical wholesaler.

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The downturn in the construction industry

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and currency exchange rate problems have been blamed.

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Managing director John Conway says he's been working to try

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and find a way of overcoming the company's financial difficulties,

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but he said a viable alternative...

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So what impact will these job losses have on the town? The DUP...

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When it closed in June 2009,

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Meteor was owed nearly £3 million from customers.

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Once the liquidator was in place, the Bank of Ireland,

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with whom Meteor did most of its cash business,

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sent in their own staff to try

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and recoup the millions of pounds owed to Meteor,

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and in turn to the bank.

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This is Tony McCrory,

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an ex-sales manager at Meteor who knew the books inside out.

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He was brought back in to help the two women from the bank

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navigate their way around the accounts.

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From early on, he had misgivings.

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When did you start to think,

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"Hold on a minute, there's something not quite right"?

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Erm... Well, pretty much straightaway, I mean,

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after the first couple of days, there would be a few...

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a few flippant remarks here and there,

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a few things that you would think, "Mm, strange."

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Further down the line, when it started to get probably dangerous,

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I thought to myself,

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"Gosh, what have I got myself involved with here?"

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Given his experience of the bank, John Conway says

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he was already suspicious about what the bank's employees would do.

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He says Tony McCrory then came to him and appeared to confirm his fears.

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At this point, John Conway decided to

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record the Bank of Ireland staff as they worked on his premises.

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I never recorded anybody in my life!

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But I says, "I need to know what's going on here."

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Spotlight has examined many hours of footage recorded by John Conway,

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which give a fascinating insight into the practices

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of the two employees from

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the Commercial Finance Department of Bank of Ireland.

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Tony, this is the actual footage of the conversations

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in this very office between you and the two women involved.

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Obviously, there's no-one here now, but it was here that it took place.

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Here, in footage broadcast for the first time,

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bank official Sarah Breen boasts to her colleague Kelley Toner

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and to Tony McCrory about just how ruthless

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they were prepared to be in collecting money.

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KELLEY LAUGHS

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SARAH AND KELLEY LAUGH

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They claim they will stop at nothing

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to recover money for the bank.

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And they're clearly proud of how they are seen as an unstoppable duo

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by others in their department.

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Yet at times, they appear to have the leeway to help certain creditors.

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But it's clear from the footage that there are certain debts

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they won't let go of, particularly when they're dealing with

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creditors they perceive to be disrespectful to them.

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SHE LAUGHS

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Clearly, it was in everyone's interest, including Meteor's,

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for the bank to collect as much money as possible in this situation,

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but what is surprising are the tactics the women appear to be

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willing to use in order to do so.

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John Conway says Kelley Toner's role quickly went

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from debt collection to attempted fraud.

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When she couldn't get the money from customers who owed it,

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she tried to collect it from Meteor's bad debt insurance.

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A lot of companies have a form of insurance called

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"bad debt insurance", whereby if one of their customers can't pay,

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they can claim the money from an insurance policy.

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On tape, Kelley Toner divulges how she regularly made up

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false information on insurance claims.

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She admits to withholding information from insurers, and to telling lies.

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One of the things Kelley Toner claims to have duped

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the insurers about is that there had been court judgments

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against customers in relation to money owed.

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If there were such judgments in place,

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the insurer would pay out much more readily.

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Kelley Toner goes on to boast of misleading insurers

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about important documents known as "proof of delivery" or PODs.

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When insurers raised the fact that there were no PODs,

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she assured them she had seen them, when she hadn't.

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These tapes are clearly of serious concern.

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Kelley Toner, who has since left Bank of Ireland,

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took a legal injunction against both Spotlight and John Conway

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to try to prevent the broadcast of the material.

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But what is most concerning is another incident from the footage,

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because it appears to show insurance fraud

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being carried out by a bank employee.

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We see Kelley Toner actually asking for Meteor's records to be

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tampered with, in order to make a company

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that didn't owe money look like it did.

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Kelley Toner wants to put through an insurance claim

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for over 12,000 euro for a customer

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called Independent Electrical Wholesalers

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based in Dublin, who she says owe this amount to Meteor.

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The two companies had what's known as a "contra deal" in place,

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which means they exchanged goods and services

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without cash ever changing hands.

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However, as her colleague Sarah Breen had pointed out to her

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moments earlier, while Independent Electrical

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had owed Meteor 12,964 euro in the past,

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the Dublin company is in turn

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owed 18,000 euro by Meteor,

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and is therefore approximately

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6,000 euro in credit.

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Independent Electricals had provided 18,000 euro worth

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of services to Meteor, which,

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as Sarah Breen makes absolutely clear to Kelley Toner,

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wiped out their 12,000 euro debt

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and brought Independent Electrical 6,000 euro into credit.

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Undeterred by Sarah Breen's warning, Kelley Toner then proceeds to ask

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for part of Meteor's payment transaction history to be deleted

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in order to try and claim the cash from an insurance company.

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Kelley Toner is willing to tamper with the accounts

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to fraudulently claim money for the bank.

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She goes on to ask Tony McCrory to remove recent transactions

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from the account history between Meteor and Independent Electrical.

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SHE LAUGHS

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Can you understand why some people might say,

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"Well, this man Tony McCrory is captured on camera

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"helping Kelley Toner to edit Meteor's credit history,

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"is he not equally guilty of conspiring to mislead an insurer?

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What was I getting out of it?

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I wasn't getting anything out of it.

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I was getting paid for a day's work,

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to do there at the time.

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I knew it was on the camera. I done nothing.

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Look, I'll leave it up to the judgment of people at home.

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I don't think anybody is going

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to look at this and think I done something wrong.

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I was made redundant at the time, in no small way

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a contributing factor to the bank,

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so I have absolutely no sympathy for them and my conscience is clear.

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We showed the clip of Kelley Toner and Tony McCrory to Julian Radcliffe,

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a specialist in fraud against insurance companies

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who has acted as an expert witness in several international fraud cases.

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This case was a classic where there was money owed both ways.

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And what these people appear to be doing was trying to

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cut off the record at a certain point, when there was money

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which didn't suit them being owed in a direction

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that didn't suit them.

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It is very serious, because in an insolvency situation,

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it's very important that the integrity of the accounting records

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should be maintained.

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Do you think it's attempted fraud?

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In the insurance world, it would be considered fraudulent,

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on the evidence that I've seen.

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Then we showed the footage to Neil Swift,

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a criminal lawyer who specialises in white-collar crime.

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We asked him if he felt he would be able to

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prosecute on the basis of the evidence we showed him.

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-Yes, I certainly would.

-And on what grounds would you take the case?

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There's definitely evidence that an offence of fraud has been committed.

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There's evidence of dishonesty from the mouths of the people concerned,

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there's direct evidence of doctoring a document,

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and there's direct evidence of knowledge

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of what the true situation is,

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so...there appear to be sufficient evidence there to prosecute a fraud.

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We asked Kelley Toner and the bank to give us their response to the tapes.

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We asked them if they thought this kind of behaviour was acceptable

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and whether it reflected the ethos of the bank.

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We asked them if any investigations or disciplinary procedures had

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been carried out within the bank on foot of their having seen the video.

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In response, Bank of Ireland questioned the veracity,

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reliability and truthfulness of the footage,

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and said, in any case, it would not be appropriate

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to comment on it, as it is currently the subject of legal proceedings

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between Bank of Ireland and John Conway.

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Kelley Toner tried to injunct this programme and failed.

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Her lawyer subsequently told Spotlight that she...

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She accepted that she made comments that were...

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..but says she was goaded into making them by Tony McCrory.

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She...

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We also wrote to Sarah Breen, who did not reply.

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John Conway says he asked a business associate to make senior figures

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in the bank aware of the tapes soon after they were recorded.

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The bank says John Conway has sought to make use of the tapes.

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The existence of an outstanding personal guarantee owed to the bank

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by John Conway is a source of a bitter dispute between them.

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Viewed in this light,

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the tapes could appear to offer a potential form of blackmail.

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Listen, that's a nonsense. Blackmailing the bank(!)

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When I first recorded the bank, we contacted the board

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of Bank of Ireland and told them that we had caught them fiddling.

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Why didn't you go to the police at the outset?

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Very simple, and I have been asked this 50 times,

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"Why not go to the police?"

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Look, Kelley and Sarah were two people who...

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..were doing a job that they were employed to do.

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And the most that was going to happen is that

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something was going to happen to those two.

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But going to the police on these two?

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The people above them... This goes...

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The fish rots from the head.

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But what did the bank do

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when they became aware of the existence of the tapes?

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According to Kelley Toner,

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managers brought her in and told her she was being filmed.

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She says she was then instructed to return to the Meteor job.

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We don't know much more about how the bank

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reacted internally to the footage.

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We do know that they pursued a fraud investigation,

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not against Kelley Toner, but against John Conway's firm, Meteor.

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The bank wouldn't tell us the detail of their allegations

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against John Conway's company, but they claim that

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in Meteor's last days, the company engaged in what's known as

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"invoice discounting fraud" -

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issuing thousands of pounds in false invoices,

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knowing the bank would cover them by paying money into Meteor's account.

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Bank of Ireland told us they successfully claimed fraud insurance

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in the aftermath of Meteor's collapse,

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and they said that means insurers were satisfied

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that fraud had taken place.

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Less than 24 hours ago, Spotlight was leaked a draft

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of an internal Bank of Ireland report on the fraud allegations.

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It confirms the bank claimed 900,000 euros from their insurers.

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But even after that payment,

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the bank says it still suffered a loss of almost £500,000.

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The Bank of Ireland had refused to give us access

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to the evidence on which they base their allegations.

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But the fraud report says the bank found more than 100 instances

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where there were issues with missing purchase orders, credit notes,

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goods returned and goods not received.

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Spotlight had already investigated some of the claims.

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In a number of cases we found what

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appeared to be reasonable explanations.

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In other cases, we've not been able to fully investigate

0:23:000:23:04

information that would appear to support the bank, partly because

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the bank and some other key participants

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have not cooperated with us.

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But the fraud report also contains the conclusions

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of Meteor's liquidator, Cavanagh Kelly,

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who investigated the allegation for the bank.

0:23:200:23:24

It said...

0:23:240:23:25

But if there was no fraud,

0:23:310:23:32

how can it be that the bank claimed 900,000 euro in fraud insurance?

0:23:320:23:38

Whether or not that was before or after Meteor's liquidator

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had said they could not conclude there was any fraudulent activity,

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we don't know, and the bank won't tell us.

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In fact, we can reveal the bank did not even tell

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Meteor's liquidator about the insurance claim.

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Have you ever committed fraud?

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Let's be serious about this here.

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There was never a fraud. This was well covered, well documented.

0:24:070:24:12

The liquidator covered it, said there was nothing. Right?

0:24:120:24:15

The directors disqualification people gave me

0:24:150:24:18

a clean bill of health. There never was an issue.

0:24:180:24:22

In June 2014, more than four years after they say they discovered

0:24:220:24:27

the alleged Meteor fraud,

0:24:270:24:29

Bank of Ireland reported John Conway to the PSNI.

0:24:290:24:32

He and his lawyers have questioned the timing of the complaint,

0:24:330:24:37

which they say came a few weeks after John Conway

0:24:370:24:39

indicated he was attempting to take the bank to court.

0:24:390:24:43

Bank of Ireland told us they couldn't answer any questions

0:24:440:24:48

about their allegations against John Conway because

0:24:480:24:51

they did not want to compromise the PSNI investigation in any way.

0:24:510:24:55

They produced this report to the PSNI

0:24:570:25:00

and I have never heard tell of it. And that's 18 months ago.

0:25:000:25:03

So you are saying that the bank made a complaint to the PSNI in 2014?

0:25:030:25:08

You are saying that in the 18 months since then,

0:25:080:25:10

you have never been approached by the PSNI?

0:25:100:25:14

I actually know very little about it.

0:25:140:25:16

But you know what, if there was something wrong, why would the bank

0:25:160:25:20

sit on this for four-and-a-half years

0:25:200:25:22

before they would go to the PSNI?

0:25:220:25:24

This is quite obvious, there was nothing wrong.

0:25:240:25:26

This is a nonsense, and it's the bank throwing whatever dirt they can

0:25:260:25:30

to try to get the attention away from themselves.

0:25:300:25:32

So what DID Bank of Ireland do in response

0:25:340:25:37

to the secretly recorded footage?

0:25:370:25:39

Bank of Ireland's current code of conduct says there's

0:25:410:25:44

an onus on employees to report even a suspicion of something wrong.

0:25:440:25:47

We don't know if that was in place when the tapes were made,

0:25:490:25:53

but we do know the bank said back then that they applied

0:25:530:25:56

the highest standards of integrity to all their dealings.

0:25:560:26:00

Hardly the case when Kelley Toner appeared to be

0:26:020:26:04

deliberately falsifying records to push through

0:26:040:26:07

a fraudulent claim for bad debt.

0:26:070:26:10

SHE LAUGHS

0:26:220:26:24

That particular claim was rejected when the full records emerged,

0:26:310:26:35

including the parts Kelley Toner ordered cut off.

0:26:350:26:38

But the company insuring Meteor's debts, Euler Hermes,

0:26:410:26:44

with headquarters in London, paid out up to £100,000 in claims to the bank.

0:26:440:26:50

We've been told that one false claim could jeopardise the entire payment.

0:26:530:26:57

That is serious,

0:27:010:27:02

and not only could that invalidate that part of the claim,

0:27:020:27:08

but it might invalidate the whole policy.

0:27:080:27:11

For all the other claims.

0:27:130:27:15

So by lying on one claim she may have invalidated £100,000 worth of claims?

0:27:160:27:21

She might have done. I'm not saying she would have done,

0:27:210:27:24

it depends partly on the attitude that the insurance company takes,

0:27:240:27:27

and what a court - if it ever ended up in court -

0:27:270:27:30

might determine in relation to the materiality of that action.

0:27:300:27:35

-But it's that serious?

-Yes.

0:27:360:27:40

Bank of Ireland never told Euler Hermes about the attempt

0:27:400:27:43

to put through a false claim, nor showed them the tapes.

0:27:430:27:46

However, Bank of Ireland said they did show the tapes to

0:27:480:27:51

their own fraud insurers, the ones who we now know

0:27:510:27:54

paid out 900,000 euro.

0:27:540:27:56

But the bank would not tell us who those insurers were.

0:27:580:28:01

Back in 2009, Kelley Toner was nervous about

0:28:040:28:07

how the bank would react to her activities.

0:28:070:28:10

But she needn't have worried.

0:28:170:28:19

When they were first alerted to the existence of the footage,

0:28:200:28:23

bank managers called Kelley Toner in.

0:28:230:28:26

We can now reveal that, according to Kelley Toner,

0:28:260:28:29

a senior bank official told her

0:28:290:28:31

"not to worry", and that the bank would look after her.

0:28:310:28:35

Kelley Toner continued to work for the bank for another two years.

0:28:350:28:40

She is now operations director for a finance company.

0:28:400:28:43

Despite her efforts to stop this programme, she told Spotlight

0:28:450:28:48

that if John Conway had not made his secret recordings, she would have

0:28:480:28:53

been congratulated by the bank, as she had been many times in the past.

0:28:530:28:58

Sarah Breen, who was aware of Toner's actions but seemingly

0:28:590:29:03

didn't report them, is still employed by the Bank of Ireland.

0:29:030:29:07

Former journalist TD Shane Ross has been critical of

0:29:120:29:16

the banking culture, and in particular of the Bank of Ireland.

0:29:160:29:20

He sits on the Public Accounts Committee in Dublin,

0:29:200:29:22

where a major public inquiry into practices in Irish banks is underway.

0:29:220:29:28

He says the broadcast of the tapes will undoubtedly

0:29:280:29:30

raise questions in the Dail.

0:29:300:29:33

I think there'll be demands for...action.

0:29:330:29:36

And particularly from the government,

0:29:360:29:38

because the government is a 14% shareholder in Bank of Ireland.

0:29:380:29:42

And I don't see how they can tolerate this.

0:29:420:29:44

These are two people who are acting on behalf of the Bank of Ireland

0:29:440:29:48

and behaving in a way which is kind of the Wild West of banking,

0:29:480:29:52

it's just quite uncontrollable and utterly unacceptable.

0:29:520:29:56

And it's quite obviously something

0:29:560:29:58

which they never expect to be accountable for.

0:29:580:30:01

Our legal expert questions the apparent lack of action by the bank

0:30:010:30:05

and says the minute they became aware of the tapes,

0:30:050:30:08

they should have acted.

0:30:080:30:10

Being informed that this sort of thing was going on,

0:30:100:30:14

I would certainly expect the bank to conduct an internal investigation

0:30:140:30:17

to find out exactly what had happened

0:30:170:30:18

and whether there was an innocent explanation for it.

0:30:180:30:22

We wrote to the bank repeatedly, looking for just such an explanation.

0:30:220:30:26

They said they could not discuss whether there was any

0:30:260:30:29

internal disciplinary investigation

0:30:290:30:31

because it would breach their duty of care and confidence

0:30:310:30:34

to current and former employees.

0:30:340:30:37

But Kelley Toner told us there was no disciplinary investigation

0:30:370:30:41

or any follow-up inquiry from the bank's audit and compliance people.

0:30:410:30:45

John Conway has spent many years in litigation

0:30:520:30:55

with the Bank of Ireland and is still fighting the bank's attempts

0:30:550:30:58

to enforce his personal guarantee, on the basis that the debt collection

0:30:580:31:03

was conducted fraudulently and recklessly.

0:31:030:31:06

And 18 months after the bank alerted the police

0:31:060:31:09

to allegations of discounting fraud at his company,

0:31:090:31:12

John Conway says the PSNI still haven't contacted him.

0:31:120:31:17

Why are you doing this now? What is the principle?

0:31:170:31:20

Is this about winning a case, is it about money,

0:31:200:31:23

is it about recouping your debt?

0:31:230:31:25

What is your motivation? Why are you talking to us today?

0:31:270:31:30

Uh...

0:31:320:31:33

It's probably to get closure. Just get, you know what I mean,

0:31:350:31:40

I have, erm...

0:31:400:31:41

I have tried for a number of years to get somebody in the bank

0:31:410:31:44

to sit down and say, "What we done here is wrong.

0:31:440:31:47

"We are sorry, we are not going to do it again.

0:31:470:31:49

"This is not what we do."

0:31:490:31:52

And instead, they have basically just ignored me.

0:31:520:31:55

And, erm...

0:31:550:31:56

You know, fuck them.

0:31:580:31:59

Shouldn't have said that.

0:32:010:32:02

You know, it just comes a stage where you just say,

0:32:020:32:05

"Look, enough is enough."

0:32:050:32:06

John Conway's sons have started a new electrical supply business,

0:32:090:32:13

trading under the old name of Meteor.

0:32:130:32:16

In the fraud report, the bank say they see this new business

0:32:160:32:19

as a way of continuing the old firm free from debt.

0:32:190:32:23

Again, the bank are suggesting fraud, but as we know,

0:32:230:32:27

the liquidator was unable to conclude

0:32:270:32:29

that there had been fraudulent activity.

0:32:290:32:32

And that may be the most significant puzzle of this whole story.

0:32:330:32:37

How did the Bank of Ireland claim 900,000 euro in fraud insurance

0:32:370:32:42

when John Conway has still not been visited by the police?

0:32:420:32:46

John Conway's war with the Bank of Ireland continues.

0:32:470:32:51

He fully expects they will bankrupt him in the near future.

0:32:510:32:55

An extraordinary clash between the Bank of Ireland and a Tyrone businessman who secretly recorded bank officials and claims to have uncovered criminal behaviour. Mandy McAuley investigates.


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