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Page last updated at 13:17 GMT, Saturday, 28 February 2009
What Happens After Sorry?

RBS chief Sir Fred Goodwin (right) and the bank's former chairman Sir Tom McKillop
RBS' bosses apologised before a Treasury select committee in January
On Thursday, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) announced the largest annual loss in UK corporate history - an eye watering 24.1bn.

RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton blamed the 2008 loss on "unprecedented turbulence" in financial markets and warned that 2009 would be another tough year for the 282-year-old bank.

Last month, at a Treasury select committee meeting, former RBS chief Sir Fred Goodwin and the bank's former chairman Sir Tom McKillop publicly apologised for their part in the banking crisis, along with HBOS' chief executive Andy Hornby and former chairman Lord Stevenson.

But their apologies do not fix the problem and, as outrage over Sir Fred's 16m pension, a pension he received after he stepped down in October, illustrates, they have not managed to assuage public anger.

In What Happens After Sorry? Panorama tells the story of RBS' dramatic fall from grace, and asks what went wrong, who is to blame and what happens next.

At the centre of the tale is the former head of RBS, Sir Fred Goodwin.


Nicknamed Fred the Shred because of his reputation for cutting costs and jobs, Sir Fred was in charge at RBS for nine years.

He built up the bank with acquisition after acquisition - NatWest, Coutts, Adam & Co, Direct Line, Ulster Bank, Churchill and Citizens Bank in the US - steering it from being a bit-part player to global icon as one of the world's top five banks.

However, as Panorama reports, the speed of the bank's expansion was ringing alarm bells for some in the City, with RBS starting to look like the banking equivalent of Chelsea football club - buying up companies.

Man at RBS headquarter in London
RBS said 2009 would be another tough year for the bank

And there was more to come. In 2007, Sir Fred turned his sights on his biggest challenge yet - the takeover of ABN Amro.

RBS clubbed together with two European banks to raise the 50bn needed to see off rival Barclays bank and seal the deal.

But in November 2008, what was probably the UK's most confident, swaggering bank turned bright red as RBS announced its first loss in nearly 40 years.

Just two months later, the government had to step in to save the bank with a $20bn bail out, and Sir Fred, his position having become untenable, resigned.

So where did it all go wrong?

Most people, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, blame the ABN deal.

At the time the takeover was approved of by 95% of shareholders as well as the board and the regulators.

Toxic debt

City analyst Peter Hahn tells the programme that view of City's analysts at the time was not quite so rosy:

"I at the time cannot recall any analyst in the city who said it was a good deal for RBS. It seemed to be a universal opinion that it was a poor deal.

"But we didn't really know about the assets that ABN's wholesale division had. Information that RBS would have obtained and should have known."

Alistair Darling
RBS had to be rescued by the government last year

ABN was heavily exposed to the toxic sub-prime debts responsible for the credit crunch.

But did Sir Fred and the other big decision makers at RBS know and if not why not? And where does this leave customers who have lost money through RBS?

Panorama speaks to Kim Lamoureux who has a Royal Bank pension. She and her husband Michael relied heavily on their RBS shares.

They have lost around 100,000 and are no facing an uncertain retirement - unlike Sir Fred whose pension amounts to 693,000 a year.

If shareholders like the Lamoureux have their way Sir Fred's finances could look considerably tighter.

They want to sue him and the bank, claiming that they were misled by RBS when they bought shares last Spring.

"I realise that they will have limitless pockets in fighting any action against them and they will have to but at the end of the day I think there's two things we can do now, we either just say 'oh that was very hard, we've lost a lot of money' and walk away from it or otherwise we can stand up and try and be counted," Mr Lamoureux tells the programme.

And while the British shareholders prepare for a fight, reporter Mark Daly travels to America to meet members of a group which could radically change what happens after sorry.

Attorney Darren Robbins, whose law firm managed to recover for its clients around $8bn from the Enron scandal, is raising a class action lawsuit suit on behalf of thousands of angry US investors who bought into RBS in an American share issue.

The San Diego firm wants to get money back for investors and to possibly bankrupt Sir Fred in the process.

Panorama: What Happens After Sorry? The Royal Bank of Scotland Story, Monday 2 March, BBC One 8.30pm.

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