Adulterous Failed Banker Fred Goodwin’s New Human Shield

By Richard Smith, who’s been a bit busy

Back in March, and courtesy of Naked Capitalism’s US locale, we arbed away Fred Goodwin’s superinjunction, which banned UK reporting of his affair with a junior director at RBS. After more challenges by the UK newspapers, the superinjunction has now been amended: it’s OK to identify Fred Goodwin as the failed banker with the wandering body part; but still not OK to identify his partner, who is referred to in the official documents by the code letters “VBN”.

Via the Daily Telegraph, it appears that the judge suddenly saw the words of Fred’s original application for an injunction in a new light:

I am a private man and I have never discussed my personal life or relationships in public … I believe that publication of the confidential information would lead to considerable intrusive and disturbing speculation as to my private life and relationships, including on the internet.

…If the information were disclosed publicly, this would inevitably also reach friends, colleagues and other business contacts, not just in the United Kingdom but worldwide…

This would have a very substantial impact on the way in which friends, colleagues and business contacts relate to me and therefore a serious negative impact on my personal life and career.

The judge turned this neatly on its head:

I infer from this that Sir Fred Goodwin is content that the court proceed on the basis that he did have a relationship with VBN …that he had not told any of his friends or colleagues at work about it and that his friends and colleagues would view the relationship with serious disapproval.

Well, maybe. My understanding, for what that’s worth, is that at the time, plenty of people at RBS were well aware of the affair, an awareness that, naturally, intensified the existing mutual contempt between employees and top management. So I don’t set much store by this, reported in The Guardian:

Formally, RBS seems to have been unaware of the relationship until February 2011, more than two years after Goodwin left the bank, and just days before The Sun newspaper first contacted him regarding the allegation. Evidence from the woman stated that an internal investigation had been conducted by RBS, after which she had “not been criticised or disciplined” and it had “not been suggested by anyone at RBS that she was in a position of conflict or in breach of the RBS code [of conduct]”.

It doesn’t sound as if the new board of RBS will be reconnecting with its rather bruised employees any time soon, if that’s the line they are taking.

Most of the hubbub surrounding superinjunctions is to do with the sudden demise of lucrative business models: the UK libel tourism business undone by US legislation that makes UK judgments against US writers unenforceable; its mirror image, the UK tabloid press’s sex gossip franchise, under threat from Twitter, where you can read (and indeed write) all the sleaze you want, for no extra charge. The monstrous intrusions by the UK press into people’s private lives, via various phone tapping and entrapment schemes, haven’t done much to promote the reputation of the press, either.

By contrast, getting the Fred story out there does feel like a small but genuine victory for free speech, in which “Naked Capitalism” has played a small part. Via The Guardian:

Sir Fred had a “reputation as an exceptionally forceful businessman”, said the judge. He was “chief executive of one of the largest publicly quoted companies in the United Kingdom, doing business on a global scale” which made him “a public figure” whose private life was more likely to be of interest to the public.

This public interest, it was said, distinguished Goodwin, under whose stewardship RBS had to be bailed out with £45 billion of taxpayers’ money, from “sportsmen or celebrities” – such as footballer Ryan Giggs – who do not normally carry out “official functions” unless their indiscretions were to impact upon, for example, their football team.

Lord Stoneham, the peer who named Fred in the House of Lords, gets the context of all this exactly right:

Every taxpayer has the right to know all the relevant facts leading up to the collapse of RBS, including failures of corporate governance. Each individual failure of corporate governance might not have been enough to bring down the bank on its own, but every single emergency brake had to fail for RBS to crash so disastrously off the Forth Bridge.

The judge will soon issue instructions to the press on how they may discuss the associated corporate governance issues, while tapdancing with enough dexterity to leave VBN unidentifiable. I’ll be doing my best to comply, and once I have the choreography off pat, I hope to have more to say. For the moment, consider the curious moral calculus revealed by these words of VBN’s, reported by the judge:

She added that one member of her family in particular would suffer “humiliation” if details were known more widely.

One member, huh? So, who’s that, then? Her (former?) husband, or her offspring? Which one’s the human shield? And which one simply doesn’t count? Sadly, both of them must already know their assigned roles in this unpleasant game. But I hope we never find out.

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  1. Rex

    Kinda makes Wiener look like a goofy adolescent on the scandal scale compared to this or Ensign or Clinton (a couple times) or Appalachian trail or …

    Wiener must resign because his transgressions are so amateurish and cartoony for a person in his realm of power.

  2. weinerdog43

    Of course Weiner has to resign. It is just as obvious that David ‘Diapers’ Vitter should not have to resign as the result of his sex scandal because IOKIYAR.

    1. ambrit

      Word up Dog;
      Having lived the last thirty years in Louisianna and Mississippi, I’m here to testify that “Swinging” Dave has a much worse reputation on the streets of Nawlins then has hit the press. That and being unusually avaricious even by Loisisanna standards. Is it just the South, or are American politicians in general not merely, but eggregiously corrupt?

    2. Dan Duncan

      Weiner does NOT need to resign. This is ridiculous.

      He just needs to find the right girl, that’s all.

      While being a lovely lady, his current wife just is not suitable. [Let’s face it: She doesn’t deserve a man of the caliber of Anthony Weiner.]

      So…in light of all this, we need to stop for a moment and consider what Representative Weiner was really saying in that one offending message…the one where Mr. Weiner sat on the couch with the two adorable pussy-cats. As you’ll recall, he even mentioned how much he loves all things feline.

      So…it’s with this comminque’ in mind that brings me to the following Introduction.

      Representative Weiner, please meet Debbie.

      Debbie is a lovely young lady looking for her soul-mate. And as you’ll see, about 40 seconds into her E-Harmony bio, she shares many of your same interests:

      All the best to both of you!

      1. ambrit

        Mr Duncan;
        Much as she obviously needs a soul mate, I wouldn’t wish a naecissist like Weiner on my enemy, much less this emotional young woman. What really gets to me, (made me cringe really,) was the question of how does a university educated MBA let such an potentially self destructive video escape into general circulation in the first place? Is there such a deep seated need for attention and affection in the younger generation that they bare their souls to complete strangers? Among friends I can see such behaviour happening. Friends and lovers ideally look out for each other and support each other. The World, and make no mistake about it, going on the internet is literally the World today, is nobodys friend. Quite the opposite. The cruelty of crowds is proverbial. Also, imagine a future employer of this young woman having this video ‘accidentally’ posted to them by some joker or business rival of the young woman. I wish her well, and hope she is astute enough to avoid creeps like the NY Rep.

  3. ambrit

    Remember the affair Profumo? This RBS mess has done just as much damage to the nation as that older scandal. More, if truth be told. Sir Fred, (the Goons would have loved that,) has arguably jeopardized the financial solvency of the State by dragging it into ‘adventures and dangers.’ Sadly, the ones who ‘don’t count’ are the UK taxpayers.

  4. Praedor

    While I don’t give a crap about one’s sexual escapades unless they are part of corruption, conflict of interest, etc. I REALLY hate the censorship involved here. A “superinjuntion” just makes me want to thumb my nose at it and post precisely what some corrupt judge (protecting the well-to-do self-privileged set) says is verboten.

    I don’t give a flying f*ck about VBN’s embarrassed whomever. VBN screwed the pooch (literally and figuratively) and must eat the doo-doo. No exemptions for the rich and powerful, precisely the opposite in fact.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Yup. To paraphrase James Carville:
      “It’s the hypocrisy, stupid.”

      And here I was jus’ supposin’ Ms VBN of RBS was jus’ helpin’ pickout all that wallpaper… ;-)

      1. ambrit

        My Dear reader;
        As Private Eye used to say, they were probably “vigorously discussing the Uganda question” from time to time.

  5. Schofield

    Increasingly worldwide politicians, business chiefs, rentiers and establishment figures come ready corrupted and it would appear to be a Catch 22 situation where it’s hard for human society to sanction their abuse particularly by using money because money itself is used to prevent the sanctioning. Until we clearly see the dual nature of money as being both a facilitator and a disruptor of the organic way human societies work we will continue to experience gross dysfunction in our societies. Ending control of money by dissociable elites is key to preventing this situation continuing.

  6. Cahal

    What a joke. Anyone can Google it and find out in a few seconds. Unfortunately for rich white men, in the battle of the internet vs superinjunctions, the internet will always win.

  7. Moopheus

    “Well, maybe. My understanding, for what that’s worth, is that at the time, plenty of people at RBS were well aware of the affair”

    My wife once worked for a (married) prof at a university who was having an affair with a junior faculty member. Her boss _thought_ the affair was secret, but of course many in the department suspected. Of course there was no “official” recognition until much later. (they eventually got married.) So these various versions aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive–it depends on your point of view.

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