Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Tuesday, 18 September 2007 18:28 UK

Fear remains for Golders Green savers

By Ben Geoghegan
BBC News

With their arms outstretched and their hands open, the small crowd pushes forward as a bank official moves towards them.

Northern Rock advert
Golders Green savers were not convinced by the Northern Rock

But she isn't offering cash or a signed savings cheque - not yet, anyway.

Outside the Northern Rock's Golders Green Branch in North London, it's Quality Street chocolates that are being passed around - something sweet to chew on to take away the bitter taste left by hours of queuing.

This is a banking panic which has led, not to uncontrolled hysteria, but to unending hours of grinding tedium.

This morning there are about 70 people waiting on the sunlit pavement in the hope that they can get their money out. Some of them arrived at two o'clock this morning.

'Porky pies'

One group of ladies are sitting on plastic chairs close to the branch entrance. They spent several hours here on Saturday, then waited all day on Monday, only to have the doors of the branch closed in their faces.

But now the finishing line in this marathon is within sight - only a few more hours to go.

They're queuing, even though the Chancellor of the Exchequer is promising to bail them out in the event that the Northern Rock goes bust.

A letter is handed out to the crowd and it couldn't be clearer.

"All existing savings in Northern Rock are safe and secure... there is no cause for concern whatsoever."

But Barry Finer isn't convinced.

"I'm taking my money out just for peace of mind. With respect to the government, they have told porky pies about Iraq and then you hear other banks are in trouble as well.

"So it's better to be safe. Better not to have all my eggs in one basket, better to spread it out a bit."

Domino effect

Many of those in the queue are elderly - and for them, their savings are part of their life story. The years of deposits, withdrawals and investments are small markers laid down over decades .

Some people have money which they've inherited. To put it at risk would dishonour the memory of their benefactors.

"When you've worked hard to save all your life, leaving your money at risk is irresponsible", says one man.

There is criticism of the banks in general. The head of the FSA says Northern Rock engaged in a extreme form of banking.

One customer agreed, saying: "Once the banks have lost confidence, you can't get it back. They borrowed short and lent long. As soon as the money dried up they had a problem."

And this is just the beginning, they fear.

Daniel Rind, 37, told me his decision to get his cash out will have a domino effect.

"With everyone pulling their money out, it'll lead to something like the George Soros incident a few years ago.

"Because the government have guaranteed it, it implies something really serious is going on. Where are the government going to get the money from. It's a ruse.

"They're trying to stop the thing but it isn't going to stop."

Zoo scene

Outside the bank, an orange barrier has been put up to prevent the line of customers spilling right across the pavement.

It has the effect of making the queue look like a spectacle at the zoo.

Leaning over are the journalists try to get their quotes: "How long have you been here?" "Why don't you believe the government ?"

A posse of Northern Rock officials are skirting the barrier and telling people that at most of their other branches there are no queues.

That they can save themselves a lot of time by travelling elsewhere to withdraw their money. But having waited so long, many don't want to risk losing their place.

And then another brightly coloured tin appears. Arms begin to stretch, fingers pick and grab. Soon the tin is empty. If only getting hold your money was as easy.

video and audio news
One Northern Rock saver's nightmare


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