Mandy McAuley investigates an extraordinary clash between the Bank of Ireland and a Tyrone businessman who secretly recorded bank officials.
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Meteor Electrical had 200 people working.
We had 45 lorries on the road.
Can you remember the day you decided to throw the towel in?
I try very hard not to remember it.
See them last few months, you know,
when the house goes back on the line,
everything goes back on the line,
you're using your credit cards
to try to get money for wages.
So far, so familiar.
A once-thriving business going under in the recession.
But this is a story with a difference.
Because what happened next between this man and his bank
has been captured on secret video recordings.
I am sure they have hundreds and hundreds of customers
making allegations. But I am not making allegations,
there is video evidence of their people
doing what they employed them to do.
We've looked at hours of footage, which we're broadcasting tonight
for the very first time.
Really quite extraordinary, wasn't it?
It's bank officials recorded on tape doing something that clearly
they shouldn't have been doing.
It's lethal. It's dynamite.
We haven't seen anything like it before.
That bit of video footage is the only thing that separates me
from hundreds of others, because, like, nobody would believe
if I was trying to tell that story.
This programme contains strong language.
-How are you?
-How are things?
-Not so bad.
You're taking my hand, eh?
John Conway's electrical supplies company used to sponsor
the Derry City football team.
Where's my onions? No onions?
How are you? Healthy eating(!)
These days, he and his sons attend matches
through the turnstiles, like everyone else.
There are no Meteor signs still round here.
At its height, John Conway's company, Meteor Controls,
had an annual turnover of £24 million.
He admits his company's financial difficulties began when
sterling collapsed seven years ago,
and that, coupled with a major recession
in the construction industry, threw his business into crisis.
Most of our purchases were in US dollar,
but most of our sales were in euro.
Sterling was in a nosedive and that
cost us an awful lot of money.
The odds were against him.
But Conway thinks his business might have survived
these catastrophic events if it hadn't been
for the added pressure from one bank
he did business with, the Bank of Ireland.
This wasn't the responsibility of the bank.
You know, the industry was tightening,
we had to keep cutting back so we remained profitable,
but it was this other stuff that was going on in the background,
the bank stuff, which was the stuff that, really, we couldn't manage.
Over 200 years ago, Bank of Ireland was founded
on the principle of supporting and guiding our customers.
We recognise that for the last few years, however,
the waters have been particularly stormy.
The bank may advertise their supporting role,
but John Conway says this wasn't his experience
when things got rough at Meteor.
You could never get money released.
Money would be sitting in the account, there was
a continuous thing of saying, "Yes, we will transfer 50,000 tomorrow."
The money wouldn't be transferred.
You couldn't get anybody on the phone,
they wouldn't answer the phone,
and then you'd get an apology the next day.
John Conway has shown us some of the e-mails exchanged between Meteor
and Bank of Ireland during the period before the company went to the wall.
They give a flavour of his frustration at cash-flow problems
caused by the bank,
a claim Bank of Ireland rejects.
Four payment requests last week not actioned.
I have been let down yet again by a transfer not going...
So here we have a bank - broke itself at this stage -
that, for whatever reason, was frequently missing deadlines
and holding on to what, to Meteor, were large amounts of cash,
making it even more difficult for a company
that was struggling to survive.
Tonight on Spotlight, we bring you the secret recordings
we had to fight in court to broadcast.
And we reveal an extraordinary battle
between businessman John Conway and his former bankers.
He secretly recorded tapes that he says expose how elements
within the Commercial Finance Department of Bank of Ireland
were willing to go to any lengths to claw back money for the bank,
including one employee attempting fraud.
The bank, in turn, accuse John Conway's firm of fraud.
So what do the tapes really reveal, and what do they show us about
how some Bank of Ireland officials operated behind closed doors?
MUFFLED VOICES IN FOOTAGE
John Conway believes that if he hadn't secretly recorded
Bank of Ireland employees after Meteor's collapse,
the subsequent criminal behaviour
he says he uncovered would never have come to light.
The Cookstown firm Meteor Electrical has ceased trading
with the loss of 70 jobs.
The company has gone into administration.
Meteor is Ireland's largest independent electrical wholesaler.
The downturn in the construction industry
and currency exchange rate problems have been blamed.
Managing director John Conway says he's been working to try
and find a way of overcoming the company's financial difficulties,
but he said a viable alternative...
So what impact will these job losses have on the town? The DUP...
When it closed in June 2009,
Meteor was owed nearly £3 million from customers.
Once the liquidator was in place, the Bank of Ireland,
with whom Meteor did most of its cash business,
sent in their own staff to try
and recoup the millions of pounds owed to Meteor,
and in turn to the bank.
This is Tony McCrory,
an ex-sales manager at Meteor who knew the books inside out.
He was brought back in to help the two women from the bank
navigate their way around the accounts.
From early on, he had misgivings.
When did you start to think,
"Hold on a minute, there's something not quite right"?
Erm... Well, pretty much straightaway, I mean,
after the first couple of days, there would be a few...
a few flippant remarks here and there,
a few things that you would think, "Mm, strange."
Further down the line, when it started to get probably dangerous,
I thought to myself,
"Gosh, what have I got myself involved with here?"
Given his experience of the bank, John Conway says
he was already suspicious about what the bank's employees would do.
He says Tony McCrory then came to him and appeared to confirm his fears.
At this point, John Conway decided to
record the Bank of Ireland staff as they worked on his premises.
I never recorded anybody in my life!
But I says, "I need to know what's going on here."
Spotlight has examined many hours of footage recorded by John Conway,
which give a fascinating insight into the practices
of the two employees from
the Commercial Finance Department of Bank of Ireland.
Tony, this is the actual footage of the conversations
in this very office between you and the two women involved.
Obviously, there's no-one here now, but it was here that it took place.
Here, in footage broadcast for the first time,
bank official Sarah Breen boasts to her colleague Kelley Toner
and to Tony McCrory about just how ruthless
they were prepared to be in collecting money.
SARAH AND KELLEY LAUGH
They claim they will stop at nothing
to recover money for the bank.
And they're clearly proud of how they are seen as an unstoppable duo
by others in their department.
Yet at times, they appear to have the leeway to help certain creditors.
But it's clear from the footage that there are certain debts
they won't let go of, particularly when they're dealing with
creditors they perceive to be disrespectful to them.
Clearly, it was in everyone's interest, including Meteor's,
for the bank to collect as much money as possible in this situation,
but what is surprising are the tactics the women appear to be
willing to use in order to do so.
John Conway says Kelley Toner's role quickly went
from debt collection to attempted fraud.
When she couldn't get the money from customers who owed it,
she tried to collect it from Meteor's bad debt insurance.
A lot of companies have a form of insurance called
"bad debt insurance", whereby if one of their customers can't pay,
they can claim the money from an insurance policy.
On tape, Kelley Toner divulges how she regularly made up
false information on insurance claims.
She admits to withholding information from insurers, and to telling lies.
One of the things Kelley Toner claims to have duped
the insurers about is that there had been court judgments
against customers in relation to money owed.
If there were such judgments in place,
the insurer would pay out much more readily.
Kelley Toner goes on to boast of misleading insurers
about important documents known as "proof of delivery" or PODs.
When insurers raised the fact that there were no PODs,
she assured them she had seen them, when she hadn't.
These tapes are clearly of serious concern.
Kelley Toner, who has since left Bank of Ireland,
took a legal injunction against both Spotlight and John Conway
to try to prevent the broadcast of the material.
But what is most concerning is another incident from the footage,
because it appears to show insurance fraud
being carried out by a bank employee.
We see Kelley Toner actually asking for Meteor's records to be
tampered with, in order to make a company
that didn't owe money look like it did.
Kelley Toner wants to put through an insurance claim
for over 12,000 euro for a customer
called Independent Electrical Wholesalers
based in Dublin, who she says owe this amount to Meteor.
The two companies had what's known as a "contra deal" in place,
which means they exchanged goods and services
without cash ever changing hands.
However, as her colleague Sarah Breen had pointed out to her
moments earlier, while Independent Electrical
had owed Meteor 12,964 euro in the past,
the Dublin company is in turn
owed 18,000 euro by Meteor,
and is therefore approximately
6,000 euro in credit.
Independent Electricals had provided 18,000 euro worth
of services to Meteor, which,
as Sarah Breen makes absolutely clear to Kelley Toner,
wiped out their 12,000 euro debt
and brought Independent Electrical 6,000 euro into credit.
Undeterred by Sarah Breen's warning, Kelley Toner then proceeds to ask
for part of Meteor's payment transaction history to be deleted
in order to try and claim the cash from an insurance company.
Kelley Toner is willing to tamper with the accounts
to fraudulently claim money for the bank.
She goes on to ask Tony McCrory to remove recent transactions
from the account history between Meteor and Independent Electrical.
Can you understand why some people might say,
"Well, this man Tony McCrory is captured on camera
"helping Kelley Toner to edit Meteor's credit history,
"is he not equally guilty of conspiring to mislead an insurer?
What was I getting out of it?
I wasn't getting anything out of it.
I was getting paid for a day's work,
to do there at the time.
I knew it was on the camera. I done nothing.
Look, I'll leave it up to the judgment of people at home.
I don't think anybody is going
to look at this and think I done something wrong.
I was made redundant at the time, in no small way
a contributing factor to the bank,
so I have absolutely no sympathy for them and my conscience is clear.
We showed the clip of Kelley Toner and Tony McCrory to Julian Radcliffe,
a specialist in fraud against insurance companies
who has acted as an expert witness in several international fraud cases.
This case was a classic where there was money owed both ways.
And what these people appear to be doing was trying to
cut off the record at a certain point, when there was money
which didn't suit them being owed in a direction
that didn't suit them.
It is very serious, because in an insolvency situation,
it's very important that the integrity of the accounting records
should be maintained.
Do you think it's attempted fraud?
In the insurance world, it would be considered fraudulent,
on the evidence that I've seen.
Then we showed the footage to Neil Swift,
a criminal lawyer who specialises in white-collar crime.
We asked him if he felt he would be able to
prosecute on the basis of the evidence we showed him.
-Yes, I certainly would.
-And on what grounds would you take the case?
There's definitely evidence that an offence of fraud has been committed.
There's evidence of dishonesty from the mouths of the people concerned,
there's direct evidence of doctoring a document,
and there's direct evidence of knowledge
of what the true situation is,
so...there appear to be sufficient evidence there to prosecute a fraud.
We asked Kelley Toner and the bank to give us their response to the tapes.
We asked them if they thought this kind of behaviour was acceptable
and whether it reflected the ethos of the bank.
We asked them if any investigations or disciplinary procedures had
been carried out within the bank on foot of their having seen the video.
In response, Bank of Ireland questioned the veracity,
reliability and truthfulness of the footage,
and said, in any case, it would not be appropriate
to comment on it, as it is currently the subject of legal proceedings
between Bank of Ireland and John Conway.
Kelley Toner tried to injunct this programme and failed.
Her lawyer subsequently told Spotlight that she...
She accepted that she made comments that were...
..but says she was goaded into making them by Tony McCrory.
We also wrote to Sarah Breen, who did not reply.
John Conway says he asked a business associate to make senior figures
in the bank aware of the tapes soon after they were recorded.
The bank says John Conway has sought to make use of the tapes.
The existence of an outstanding personal guarantee owed to the bank
by John Conway is a source of a bitter dispute between them.
Viewed in this light,
the tapes could appear to offer a potential form of blackmail.
Listen, that's a nonsense. Blackmailing the bank(!)
When I first recorded the bank, we contacted the board
of Bank of Ireland and told them that we had caught them fiddling.
Why didn't you go to the police at the outset?
Very simple, and I have been asked this 50 times,
"Why not go to the police?"
Look, Kelley and Sarah were two people who...
..were doing a job that they were employed to do.
And the most that was going to happen is that
something was going to happen to those two.
But going to the police on these two?
The people above them... This goes...
The fish rots from the head.
But what did the bank do
when they became aware of the existence of the tapes?
According to Kelley Toner,
managers brought her in and told her she was being filmed.
She says she was then instructed to return to the Meteor job.
We don't know much more about how the bank
reacted internally to the footage.
We do know that they pursued a fraud investigation,
not against Kelley Toner, but against John Conway's firm, Meteor.
The bank wouldn't tell us the detail of their allegations
against John Conway's company, but they claim that
in Meteor's last days, the company engaged in what's known as
"invoice discounting fraud" -
issuing thousands of pounds in false invoices,
knowing the bank would cover them by paying money into Meteor's account.
Bank of Ireland told us they successfully claimed fraud insurance
in the aftermath of Meteor's collapse,
and they said that means insurers were satisfied
that fraud had taken place.
Less than 24 hours ago, Spotlight was leaked a draft
of an internal Bank of Ireland report on the fraud allegations.
It confirms the bank claimed 900,000 euros from their insurers.
But even after that payment,
the bank says it still suffered a loss of almost £500,000.
The Bank of Ireland had refused to give us access
to the evidence on which they base their allegations.
But the fraud report says the bank found more than 100 instances
where there were issues with missing purchase orders, credit notes,
goods returned and goods not received.
Spotlight had already investigated some of the claims.
In a number of cases we found what
appeared to be reasonable explanations.
In other cases, we've not been able to fully investigate
information that would appear to support the bank, partly because
the bank and some other key participants
have not cooperated with us.
But the fraud report also contains the conclusions
of Meteor's liquidator, Cavanagh Kelly,
who investigated the allegation for the bank.
But if there was no fraud,
how can it be that the bank claimed 900,000 euro in fraud insurance?
Whether or not that was before or after Meteor's liquidator
had said they could not conclude there was any fraudulent activity,
we don't know, and the bank won't tell us.
In fact, we can reveal the bank did not even tell
Meteor's liquidator about the insurance claim.
Have you ever committed fraud?
Let's be serious about this here.
There was never a fraud. This was well covered, well documented.
The liquidator covered it, said there was nothing. Right?
The directors disqualification people gave me
a clean bill of health. There never was an issue.
In June 2014, more than four years after they say they discovered
the alleged Meteor fraud,
Bank of Ireland reported John Conway to the PSNI.
He and his lawyers have questioned the timing of the complaint,
which they say came a few weeks after John Conway
indicated he was attempting to take the bank to court.
Bank of Ireland told us they couldn't answer any questions
about their allegations against John Conway because
they did not want to compromise the PSNI investigation in any way.
They produced this report to the PSNI
and I have never heard tell of it. And that's 18 months ago.
So you are saying that the bank made a complaint to the PSNI in 2014?
You are saying that in the 18 months since then,
you have never been approached by the PSNI?
I actually know very little about it.
But you know what, if there was something wrong, why would the bank
sit on this for four-and-a-half years
before they would go to the PSNI?
This is quite obvious, there was nothing wrong.
This is a nonsense, and it's the bank throwing whatever dirt they can
to try to get the attention away from themselves.
So what DID Bank of Ireland do in response
to the secretly recorded footage?
Bank of Ireland's current code of conduct says there's
an onus on employees to report even a suspicion of something wrong.
We don't know if that was in place when the tapes were made,
but we do know the bank said back then that they applied
the highest standards of integrity to all their dealings.
Hardly the case when Kelley Toner appeared to be
deliberately falsifying records to push through
a fraudulent claim for bad debt.
That particular claim was rejected when the full records emerged,
including the parts Kelley Toner ordered cut off.
But the company insuring Meteor's debts, Euler Hermes,
with headquarters in London, paid out up to £100,000 in claims to the bank.
We've been told that one false claim could jeopardise the entire payment.
That is serious,
and not only could that invalidate that part of the claim,
but it might invalidate the whole policy.
For all the other claims.
So by lying on one claim she may have invalidated £100,000 worth of claims?
She might have done. I'm not saying she would have done,
it depends partly on the attitude that the insurance company takes,
and what a court - if it ever ended up in court -
might determine in relation to the materiality of that action.
-But it's that serious?
Bank of Ireland never told Euler Hermes about the attempt
to put through a false claim, nor showed them the tapes.
However, Bank of Ireland said they did show the tapes to
their own fraud insurers, the ones who we now know
paid out 900,000 euro.
But the bank would not tell us who those insurers were.
Back in 2009, Kelley Toner was nervous about
how the bank would react to her activities.
But she needn't have worried.
When they were first alerted to the existence of the footage,
bank managers called Kelley Toner in.
We can now reveal that, according to Kelley Toner,
a senior bank official told her
"not to worry", and that the bank would look after her.
Kelley Toner continued to work for the bank for another two years.
She is now operations director for a finance company.
Despite her efforts to stop this programme, she told Spotlight
that if John Conway had not made his secret recordings, she would have
been congratulated by the bank, as she had been many times in the past.
Sarah Breen, who was aware of Toner's actions but seemingly
didn't report them, is still employed by the Bank of Ireland.
Former journalist TD Shane Ross has been critical of
the banking culture, and in particular of the Bank of Ireland.
He sits on the Public Accounts Committee in Dublin,
where a major public inquiry into practices in Irish banks is underway.
He says the broadcast of the tapes will undoubtedly
raise questions in the Dail.
I think there'll be demands for...action.
And particularly from the government,
because the government is a 14% shareholder in Bank of Ireland.
And I don't see how they can tolerate this.
These are two people who are acting on behalf of the Bank of Ireland
and behaving in a way which is kind of the Wild West of banking,
it's just quite uncontrollable and utterly unacceptable.
And it's quite obviously something
which they never expect to be accountable for.
Our legal expert questions the apparent lack of action by the bank
and says the minute they became aware of the tapes,
they should have acted.
Being informed that this sort of thing was going on,
I would certainly expect the bank to conduct an internal investigation
to find out exactly what had happened
and whether there was an innocent explanation for it.
We wrote to the bank repeatedly, looking for just such an explanation.
They said they could not discuss whether there was any
internal disciplinary investigation
because it would breach their duty of care and confidence
to current and former employees.
But Kelley Toner told us there was no disciplinary investigation
or any follow-up inquiry from the bank's audit and compliance people.
John Conway has spent many years in litigation
with the Bank of Ireland and is still fighting the bank's attempts
to enforce his personal guarantee, on the basis that the debt collection
was conducted fraudulently and recklessly.
And 18 months after the bank alerted the police
to allegations of discounting fraud at his company,
John Conway says the PSNI still haven't contacted him.
Why are you doing this now? What is the principle?
Is this about winning a case, is it about money,
is it about recouping your debt?
What is your motivation? Why are you talking to us today?
It's probably to get closure. Just get, you know what I mean,
I have, erm...
I have tried for a number of years to get somebody in the bank
to sit down and say, "What we done here is wrong.
"We are sorry, we are not going to do it again.
"This is not what we do."
And instead, they have basically just ignored me.
You know, fuck them.
Shouldn't have said that.
You know, it just comes a stage where you just say,
"Look, enough is enough."
John Conway's sons have started a new electrical supply business,
trading under the old name of Meteor.
In the fraud report, the bank say they see this new business
as a way of continuing the old firm free from debt.
Again, the bank are suggesting fraud, but as we know,
the liquidator was unable to conclude
that there had been fraudulent activity.
And that may be the most significant puzzle of this whole story.
How did the Bank of Ireland claim 900,000 euro in fraud insurance
when John Conway has still not been visited by the police?
John Conway's war with the Bank of Ireland continues.
He fully expects they will bankrupt him in the near future.
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.