UK watchdog apologises to ex-NatWest chief for misleading impression on Farage probe

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The UK’s privacy watchdog has apologised to former NatWest chief Alison Rose for suggesting she breached the law when she spoke to a journalist about the closure of Nigel Farage’s bank account.  

“Our investigation did not find that Ms Rose breached data protection law and we regret that our statement gave the impression that she did,” the Information Commissioner’s Office said on Monday.

The ICO also said that it regretted not giving Rose the opportunity to comment on its findings. The regulator said it had not investigated Rose’s actions but that its probe had focused on NatWest.

Rose was forced to resign from NatWest in July after a “debanking” scandal ignited by claims from Farage, the former Brexit party leader, that he had been booted out of private bank Coutts for his political views.

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The ICO apology comes less than three weeks after the regulator said Rose had inappropriately and inaccurately shared Farage’s data by briefing a BBC journalist about why NatWest-owned Coutts closed Farage’s account.

The watchdog said it had found that a NatWest employee had infringed data protection rights by sharing “information when they should not have done”, and that it would take no further action given that the person in question had already resigned.

NatWest last month published an independent review by law firm Travers Smith that found the lender’s decision to close Farage’s bank account was primarily commercial and, therefore, lawful and in line with its policies.

But the probe found that the lender had failed to communicate the decision properly and mishandled his complaint.

Travers Smith, which reviewed 3.7mn documents and interviewed 28 staff members, also said that Rose had “probably” broken data protection laws when she briefed a BBC journalist about Farage’s account closure.

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Rose previously said that the law firm’s report was clear that “there was no leak of specific detailed financial information”.

The Financial Conduct Authority, the financial regulator, has announced its own probe into the matter.

NatWest initially defended the closure of Farage’s account as a commercial decision. But the former politician obtained materials through a subject access request that revealed Coutts’ reputational risk committee had accused him of “pandering to racists” and being a “disingenuous grifter”.

The private bank concluded his politics were “at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”. Former Coutts chief executive Peter Flavel resigned over the matter.

Rose has admitted to inaccurately briefing a BBC reporter that Farage’s political views had nothing to do with the closure of his account.

She conceded the conversation at a charity dinner was a “serious error of judgment” but denied disclosing any “personal financial information”.

NatWest’s board has yet to decide whether Rose will receive any of her pay for 2023 and said, on publishing its financial results last month, that it would “disclose the relevant outcomes, as soon as possible”.

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A spokesperson for Rose did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ICO’s apology.