The Barclays small print that made me blink

By Charlotte Oliver, February 20, 2014
The email with the hand-written note

The email with the hand-written note

A businessman embroiled in a six-year legal battle with Barclays has discovered internal bank memos highlighting that he was Jewish.

Jeffrey Morris, an entrepreneur and investor from Leeds, first fought Barclays in court a few years ago after millions of pounds he owed in business loans were converted into personal debt by the bank, leading him into bankruptcy.

Although the initial verdict went against him, Mr Morris claimed that a subsequent investigation by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) revealed flaws in the bank’s argument.

Mr Morris’s lawyers made a series of Freedom of Information requests and disclosure orders, collecting thousands of documents that had been shared by Barclays’ staff.

One document in particular sparked their concern. On an email exchange between two bank employees, there was a handwritten note that said: “Mr M = Jewish community – high networking.” The rest of the notes were illegible.

“I was horrified when I first saw the note,” Mr Morris said, adding that, in his view, “my religion had some bearing on what was going on here”.

Financial journalist and vice-chair of the Board of Deputies Alex Brummer said: “Any allegation that Barclays employees somehow felt that Jeffrey Morris should be treated differently because he was a member of the Jewish community is deeply disturbing. Ethnic background is of no relevance in the dealings of a leading bank with its customers.”

Mr Morris, 55, is a longstanding benefactor of Leeds’ Chabad-Lubavitch. He is also an active member of the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue.

“One of the managers once told me that a lot of his best friends were Jewish,” Mr Morris said. “But I just let it fly.”

Mr Morris’s lawyer, Toby Cadman, said: “I couldn’t see why someone would make the effort to write that … when his faith has absolutely nothing to do with his business with the bank.”

Barclay’s Head of Communications Daniel Hunter responded: “We believe that Mr Morris communicated that he was a member of the Jewish business community to us several years ago as pertinent to his business dealings with the bank and it was later written down by hand as a statement of fact.

"This information was not recorded in any system because ethnicity or religion does not play any part in any decision making process and is not requested from our customers. Unfortunately, we continue to seek to enforce a multi-million pound court judgment against Mr Morris for the money he owes Barclays.”

Last updated: 2:28pm, February 20 2014