PENSIONERS and small investors who lost savings after the Royal Bank of Scotland's disastrous £12 billion rights issue three years ago have taken the first step in bringing proceedings against the bank, it has emerged.

They have appointed Bird & Bird, the international law firm that represented Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou in his brand dispute with easyJet, to prepare a "letter before action", the first legal move towards a class action. They have also enlisted renowned QC Philip Marshall, who is classified in Chambers & Partners as one of "the stars of the Bar."

Shareholders had said they would continue their legal battle despite a Financial Services Authority investigation declaring Fred Goodwin and RBS were not guilty of any fraudulent activity before the bank failure.

Now it has emerged the shareholders are preparing to take the case to court and have created a draft timetable that plans for an eight-week trial which is due to start at the end of 2013.

A letter before action, normally expected to be accompanied by the draft particulars of the claim, is sent before the proceedings are issued.

The development will heap further pressure on Mr Goodwin, who suffered the ultimate public disgrace on Tuesday night when the Queen stripped him of his knighthood for bringing the honours system into disrepute.

The RBS Shareholders' Action Group is also seeking indemnity insurance to cover any costs if it loses its claim against RBS.

Shareholders believe the rights prospectus was misleading and gave no hint that within a few months the company would require the £45.5bn taxpayer bailout that triggered a banking crisis.

Experts are advising shareholders they could use revelations that RBS also benefited from an almost identical taxpayer bailout package in the US months before the rights issue. It borrowed $84.5bn in October 2008 from the US Federal Reserve, which paid out $1.2 trillion in loans to banks during the financial crisis, including more than a dozen foreign companies.

Almost half of the Fed's top 30 borrowers were from Europe, and RBS was the biggest non-US beneficiary.

The action group, in a memo to members, said Bird & Bird were "highly regarded and known for managing successfully complex commercial disputes".

It added: "The team is now instructed to prepare a letter before action and, as necessary, commence proceedings against RBS and its former directors, and with leading counsel, Philip Marshall, QC, has commenced that work."

RBS has already faced a class action claim by investors in the US but it was dismissed in January last year following an earlier US Supreme Court ruling that effectively ruled investors cannot use federal courts to raise fraud claims over the purchase of foreign securities.

At the time, it was said the bank still faced a case regarding those who purchased US preference shares.

Financier Peter de Vink, a former associate of Mr Goodwin, believes the double bailout does not just strengthen the UK shareholders' case, it shows there is also a case for criminal proceedings.

Mr de Vink, now managing director of Edinburgh Financial & General Holdings, said: "If you are producing a document, where you are asking people to put £12bn on the table and you fail to tell them that you have borrowed all that from the American Treasury, wouldn't you think it makes the document completely fraudulent, in my view.

"If the bank had said we want you to know we are in hock to the American Treasury for that amount I don't think anyone would have subscribed to the £12bn rights issue, which would have been then just a plaster on the wound."

Mr Marshall has been acting for BTA Bank in the case of Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Kazakh businessman accused of perpetrating one of the biggest banking frauds in history.

Mr Ablyazov, 47, is accused by BTA Bank, which he ran before leaving Kazakhstan in January 2009, of "fraud and embezzlement on an almost unprecedented scale".