The Sunday Times has revealed that Lloyds Bank lent gangster David Hunt up to £4m around the time he was fighting the paper in a High Court libel battle.
Yesterday's front page reported that Barclays called in a £4.2m loan from Hunt when a manager read reports of his libel case against the paper last year. It centred around an article in which he was named as a “crime boss seeking to cash in on the sale of derelict land around the Olympic Park”.
The Sunday Times said that Hunt then obtained a secured loan from Lloyds, which is part-owned by the taxpayer, between May and 2 July 2013 to pay off his debts. On 1 July Hunt was told he had lost his libel battle with The Sunday Times and was branded a "violent crime syndicate boss by a High Court judge".
Lloyds agreed to loan Hunt the money despite being required to vet prospective customers, the paper said.
The Sunday Times also reported yesterday that, on 3 October, while Hunt owed The Sunday Times £805,000 in legal costs, West Ham United co-owner David Sullivan loaned him £1m through his finance firm, GC CO NO 102. The newspaper said it was paid £505,000 the next day and then the remaining £300,000 ten days later.
According to the paper, the loans were made to Hunt’s (UK) Properties, a company which he is the director of.
GC CO NO 102 was wound up in January, but Hunt was said to have repaid the loan.
A Barclays insider told The Sunday Times the bank decided to call in its loan after a manager read a newspaper report about Hunt taking legal action against The Sunday Times. They added: “It’s a surprise Lloyds didn’t pick up on the press reports.”
Lloyds Banking Group told the paper in a statement it would not comment on individual customer accounts.
A Sullivan spokesman described the transaction as a “normal commercial loan secured at a normal commercial rate”.
Matthew Jenkins, a lawyer acting for Hunt, told the paper: “When the need arose, at relatively short notice, for my client who had already spent a substantial amount on his own legal costs, to pay the costs order … Mr Sullivan agreed that one of his companies would make a loan. The loan was made on commercial terms.”
Labour MP John Mann, who sits on the Treasury Select Committee, said this weekend that the Financial Conduct Authority should begin an inquiry into the matter.
Sunday Times journalist Michael Gillard was named British Journalism Awards Journalist of the Year in December last year for is exposure of the crime boss.
He was unable to attend the awards because security concerns mean he is unable to attend public events in London.
A dozen of the UK's leading legal minds will explain what the Defamation Act 2013 means for journalists and the media at a unique conference being organised by Press Gazette in London on 19 June. The cost of defending a libel action at trial can be more than £1m, tickets for Defamation 2014 start from £89+VAT. Follow the links to book direct at the event page, or firstname.lastname@example.org to secure your place and arrange payment within 28 days by invoice.