Sunday 17 December 2017

Private detectives spying on families is 'legal', claims Ulster Bank

Michael Taggart
Michael Taggart
The letter from the Taggarts querying the surveillance
Ulster Bank letter confirming it had spied on Taggart brothers

Greg Harkin

ULSTER Bank has admitted it hired private detectives to spy on the homes of two brothers it is fighting in a legal battle over a major Dublin land deal, documents obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

Solicitors for the bank have written to Michael and John Taggart defending their actions.

The brothers are being sued by Ulster Bank over an alleged failure to honour a personal guarantee when they paid €19m for land at Kinsealy in north Dublin.

They are counter-suing the bank for €100m, claiming it acted unlawfully in shutting down their property business empire.

Michael Taggart said he was "absolutely horrified" to find a man with a long lens camera taking pictures and videos of his home at Drumsurn, Co Derry, from a nearby field.

"I have three children under the age of five and they were outside playing," he told the Sunday Independent.

"That's probably what annoyed me most about the whole thing. I had relatives here from Co Meath staying here as well and it was very intimidating. I was also followed by two men in a car on a number of occasions over the past few days and my brother John and his grown-up daughter have been photographed as well."

The ongoing legal case has been adjourned as John Taggart has been unwell recently.

Solicitors representing Michael Taggart – once described by the Sunday Independent as one of Ireland's richest men and a former recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year – wrote to the Ulster Bank last Tuesday to complain about the private detectives.

Solicitors Arthur Cox wrote back to the Taggarts on Thursday defending the actions of the snoops.

"Given the history of the matter, it will come as no surprise that Ulster Bank engaged investigators to carry out surveillance of Mr John Taggart ... such a step is, of course, lawful and those undertaking surveillance on behalf of the bank have not acted unlawfully," said Mr Cox, Ulster Bank's Belfast lawyer.

"We are instructed that those involved in the surveillance for the bank did not use long lens cameras nor were they 'lurking in hedges' around the Taggart family homes.

"If such events occurred as alleged, it suggests surveillance by persons other than those acting for the bank."

Mr Cox then went on to criticise Michael Taggart for his appearance last week on a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight investigation into allegations that Ulster Bank deliberately closed down viable businesses to generate profits.

"We expect that you will ensure that there is no ill-founded or inaccurate public presentation of the position about surveillance by our client bank," said Mr Cox.

"We raise this concern in light of the fact that, unlike our clients, Mr Michael Taggart saw fit to participate in a BBC TV programme recently to speak of matters under consideration in the forthcoming trial," added the solicitor.

However, Michael Taggart said the surveillance of him and his family members was a "new low" in his legal battle with Ulster Bank.

"I was tailed on one journey from my home to Coleraine in north Derry," he added.

"I found that very intimidating and frankly dangerous. My family and I are calling on Ulster Bank to stop all their surveillance immediately and hand over any material they have of family members."

In the legal battle, the bank claims the farmer's sons signed a personal guarantee on the Co Dublin investment to the tune of €4.3m.

The brothers say this was paid off by June 2007 and when they signed a raft of documents six months later they didn't realise that guarantee had been resurrected.

Ulster Bank went to court in Belfast and won summary judgement against the Taggarts for the Kinsealy 'guarantee' and a second Stg£5m personal guarantee over property in the North.

However, the Taggarts appealed and have since won two cases against the bank with a full hearing of both sides' claims set for hearing in November.

Ulster Bank did not respond to queries from the Sunday Independent.

The bank, and its parent company RBS, has been heavily criticised over allegations it forced viable companies out of business here.

Among the complaints made is one from entrepreneur Bill Cullen.

The bank has denied all wrongdoing.

Sunday Independent

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