Sunday 8 December 2019

The banker, the builder's wife and the web request

Senior official at Ulster Bank sent Facebook friend ­request to wife of businessman at centre of high-profile court ­dispute

Michael Taggart
Michael Taggart

Greg Harkin

A BANK which has admitted hiring private detectives to follow a businessman it is involved in a legal battle with is being asked to explain why a senior member of staff tried to befriend the businessman's wife on Facebook.

Michael Taggart and his brother John are involved in a high-profile legal battle with Ulster Bank. A trial is due to take place in the autumn.

The developers are suing the British-owned financial institution for €100m, claiming it forced the closure of its business when it was viable and had assets to discharge its debts.

Ulster Bank is counter-suing for the repayment of personal guarantees of more than €9m, much of it linked to a property deal in north Dublin.

Last month, the Sunday Independent revealed that the Taggarts had been followed by private detectives.

Some of them took pictures of Michael Taggart's family home in Co Derry as his three young children played outside.

Ulster Bank's lawyers confirmed the surveillance during a Commercial Court hearing.

It was only then that Mr Taggart's wife, a successful stylist and make-up artist from Co Meath, realised a strange 'Friend Request' on Facebook may be linked to Ulster Bank.

The request, confirmed automatically by email to Jenny Taggart, was made by a senior bank official who had dealt with the Taggarts' property development companies.

Mrs Taggart told the Sunday Independent: "I never accept friend requests from people I don't know on my personal Facebook account which I use to keep in touch with family and close friends.

"I had this request from [a named individual], and I had no idea who he was, so I sent a message back to him to ask him if I had met him through the fashion industry.

"I never got a response and then the request was withdrawn.

"It was only after the surveillance was discovered that I went back and looked at it and mentioned it to Michael. We were in shock."

The businessman, who is back in the industry and involved in new property developments on both sides of the Border, said he was "stunned" when he checked the man's Facebook profile.

"I knew exactly who he was," he said.

"He had worked in the Ulster Bank's operations in Belfast and had dealt with our businesses.

"Jenny had never met him; didn't even know who he was until I saw his profile and of course his picture."

He said the development was "deeply worrying" for his family.

"It's strange to say the least," the businessman added.

"Coming on top of all the other incidents of photographs being taken of our family home and my car being followed by private detectives, it was disturbing for my wife and our family."

On Friday, the bank official was not available to talk at his branch. A query put to him via Facebook went unanswered.

Ulster Bank also did not respond to a media query from the Sunday Independent.

Mr Taggart's solicitor has written a letter of complaint to the bank.

Sunday Independent

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