Professor Lesley Sawers and her husband Allan McKechnie have been told she has a ‘mark against her name’, apparently as a result of her work on gender and LGBT issues
Professor Lesley Sawers, the Equalities and Human Rights Commissioner for Scotland
The crisis coursing through the banking sector has taken another twist after an equality campaigner and her husband were told their account was being closed.
Professor Lesley Sawers, 64, the Equalities and Human Rights Commissioner for Scotland, has been a loyal customer for 32 years. But Prof Sawers and husband Allan McKechnie have been told their Royal Bank of Scotland joint account will be shut next month.
Notification arrived by letter two weeks ago from RBS, a subsidiary of the NatWest Group. It said it would be ceasing its “banking relationship” with the couple and they would have to make other arrangements “outside of the NatWest group”.
The extraordinary decision – without explanation – came out of the blue and in the wake of a scandal that has sparked claims big name institutions were indiscriminately closing accounts in the names of customers with whom their values do not align.
The furore – beloved to be nationwide and widespread – came to a head after former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said he had been told by Coutts they no longer wanted him as a customer.
Prof Sawers has been in her job, which deals in part with women’s rights and LGBT issues, since 2016 and during that time has not been involved in any controversies. However, her role appears to have caught the eye of trans lobby.
Mr McKechnie, 69, a private pilot from South Ayrshire, told The Times: “The type of issues that my wife is having to oversee and deal with at the moment are quite contentious.
“I made a throwaway comment to my wife last week and said, ‘I hope it’s not your job that’s giving me all this grief’. She was a bit disparaging and said, ‘Don’t be stupid’.
“But I saw the stories about other accounts being closed down and said: ‘Good God, there may be something in this after all, with you being the equalities commissioner’. I rang up to put in a complaint and I did say to them, ‘You do realise you are closing the account of the Equalities and Human Rights commissioner?'”
Since the couple were put on notice they have held talks with a rival bank only to be told Prof Sawers had a “mark against her name”, despite their account having a healthy balance of thousands of pounds.
They were given no further details. Mr McKechnie added: “It is extraordinary. It’s a terrible way to treat someone and a very serious thing.”
RBS told the couple it was “not able to discuss this decision with you or provide you with any further information in relation to our decision making”.
Fuming Farage compared UK to ‘Communist China’
High street giant NatWest is still 38.6 per cent owned by the British taxpayer after it was bailed out following the 2008 financial crisis.
Reclaim leader and former actor Laurence Fox has since withdrawn all his money, save a nominal £100, from NatWest. His party has also been refused an account.
The growing scandal has sparked an outpouring of anger after Mr Farage, 59, compared Britain to “Communist China” after his account was closed by Coutts, which is also owned by NatWest.
He said: “Some of these ridiculous rules and closures have been extended to my immediate family. I am enraged and also have a feeling of guilt that members of my family are being punished for my campaign to leave the European Union.
“The banking industry in the UK has become politicised. We are going down a road where anybody in Britain could say something on Facebook or Twitter that a bank doesn’t like and lose their accounts.”
Some 10,000 people have joined the Facebook group NatWest Closed Down My Account to share similar stories.
The banking group is now allowing its staff to go to work identifying as men and women on different days of the week as part of diversity measures, offering its employees double-sided lanyards to those identifying as non-binary.
It said: “Like all UK regulated banking institutions NatWest is subject to legal and regulatory requirements, and we treat compliance with them as a matter of priority.”
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