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I am not a banker: Sir Fred’s super-injunction backfires

SIR Fred Goodwin was criticised last night after a super-injunction to stop people calling him a banker backfired and sparked an outpouring of ridicule online.

The floodgates were opened when a backbench Liberal Democrat MP used parliamentary privilege to reveal that the former banker had won a court order banning use of the term -- and stopping the media even reporting on the ban.

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Because John Hemming MP brought the matter up in the House of Commons, the press can now freely report that the controversial former RBS chief tried to suppress mentions of his old occupation.

Raising concerns about the prevalence of so-called super-injunctions, used by the rich and famous to suppress stories that might damage their reputation, Mr Hemming said: “In a secret hearing, Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him being identified as a banker.

“Will the Government have a debate or a statement on the issue of freedom of speech and whether there is one law for the rich, such as Fred Goodwin, and another law for the poor?”

However, the issues that brought about the super-injunction -- and the ban on using the term banker -- remain off-limits for the media.

Index on Censorship, a group that campaigns for freedom of speech and expression, said the case showed “how disastrously wrong these things can go”.

Padraig Reidy, news editor of the website, said: “As we’ve seen, after a hiatus of a while, there’s suddenly a tremendous amount of interest in Fred Goodwin again. While it’s difficult to say what Sir Fred is hoping to achieve, he’s certainly drawn attention to himself in a way that he would never have desired.”

Mr Reidy said his group had been concerned about super-injunctions for some time, but that it was “not so much a change of law as a change of mindset that’s needed”.

“While you can see reasons for there to be super-injunctions in extreme cases -- like child protection, or protection of vulnerable people -- they do seem to get used quite often merely to protect people’s reputations,” he said.

Austin Lafferty, a Scottish solicitor, said: “This is a very expensive and frankly high-risk process for anyone concerned about their reputation.

“The super-injunction, if successful, will keep things out of the public eye but it can look to the ordinary citizen like overkill and simply raise suspicions where there may be no misconduct in reality.”

Despite Sir Fred’s intentions, news of the super-injunction prompted an outpouring of scorn online, with his name rising to the top of Twitter’s trend list as the most talked-about topic on the web.

One comment posted read: “So Fred Goodwin obtains an injunction, banning the media from calling him a banker, but gets knighted for services to banking. Madness.”

Sir George Young, leader of the House of Commons, told the MP who sparked the furore that the topic would be explored in a forthcoming debate. “I will raise with the appropriate minister the issue he has just raised,” he said.

However, Sir George also warned MPs about addressing legal proceedings and court responsibilities, saying: “I think any minister would be cautious about commenting on that.”

Sir Fred was a banker for more than a decade, taking senior posts at Clydesdale and RBS before accepting the role of RBS chief executive in 2001.

He gained the nickname Fred the Shred for his ruthless approach to business, taking no prisoners during his often tumultuous years at the helm.

After RBS’s takeover of Dutch bank ABN Amro in 2007, widely seen as one of the worst business moves in recent history, Sir Fred’s banking career went rapidly downhill.

The Edinburgh-based bank was brought to the brink of collapse, requiring a £45.5bn state bailout that brought it 83% into public ownership.

However, he is still eligible for a £342,500 annual pension -- reduced from £700,000 in the face of public outcry -- meaning that although he is now technically an ex-banker, he draws a sizeable proportion of his income from banking.

Sir Fred last night declined to comment.

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