Exmouth hotelier denies £476,000 ‘forged signature’ fraud against bank

PUBLISHED: 16:04 11 December 2018 | UPDATED: 13:07 17 December 2018

Exeter Crown Court. Picture: Archant

Exeter Crown Court. Picture: Archant

Archant

An Exmouth hotelier has denied conning a bank into lending him almost half a million pounds by forging his wife’s signature on an application form.

Paul Nightingale told a jury he was not acting dishonestly when he signed the legally binding document and did it because it was easier and more convenient.

The businessman forged the signature while transferring a business loan for £478,000 from one bank to another in 2007, when he was running the Royal Beacon Hotel in Exmouth.

The loan, for £478,000 was secured on the freehold, owned by Mrs Nightingale, of the building housing the Golden Dragon restaurant in Exmouth and the charge on the property had to be transferred from one bank to another.

Nightingale, who had owned the hotel since 2003, told Exeter Crown Court on Tuesday, December 11 he was pressurised into moving the loan from the Bank of Scotland to Natwest by his bank manager Robert Salisbury.

He said he had not deceived Natwest because Mr Salisbury was with him when he forged the signature and knew he had done it.

Nightingale said his wife learned of the switch of the loan to Natwest before the deal was completed and had agreed that the Golden Dragon should be used as security.

He accused the bank of ruining his business by forcing him to take out loan swaps, also known as interest rate hedging products, leading to heavy losses and the repossession of the hotel in 2012.

Nightingale, 64, of Louisa Terrace, Exmouth, denies fraud.

The prosecution says he acted dishonestly by forging his wife’s signature on the loan agreement on August 4, 2007 but the issue only came to light when the bank foreclosed in 2012.

The form was signed in August but the loan only came into effect in January 2008 after Ann Nightingale had gone to a solicitor and signed a document transferring the legal charge on her property from the Bank of Scotland to Natwest.

The bank did not call in the police until 2015 and Nightingale admitted the forgery when he was interviewed the next year.

Nightingale told the jury his dealings with Mr Salisbury and Natwest had ruined him financially because the swap agreements he entered into as a condition for receiving loans had resulted in unaffordable repayments.

He said that in 2007 he had a very good relationship with Mr Salisbury, who often visited the hotel and joined him at social functions.

Nightingale said Mr Salisbury knew that he sometimes signed documents on behalf of his wife and was with him when he did so on the loan form.

He said his wife Ann was more cautious than him in business matters and he had forged the signature because she was reluctant to alter or extend their borrowings.

There was a power of attorney which enabled him to sign documents on her behalf.

Nightingale said: “She trusted me and wanted me to handle most of her affairs. Her only business interests were properties she let out. This was not the first time I had signed her signature.

“When paperwork came into the house, she would pass it across and say ‘can you deal with that?’

“It just allowed the business to flow smoothly.

“My wife was not particularly interested and chose not to be involved in the intricacies of business. She trusted me implicitly, and was right to do so because I did everything for the good of her and our two children.

“She had said dozens of times that whatever happened in our business and private life, she wanted me to deal with it. I dealt with everything.

“If someone asked me in 2010 if I had done anything wrong, I would not have thought about the words fraud or forgery. I would have said I put her name on the document, instead of saying I signed it.

“Mr Salisbury was there when I did it and on a number of occasions when I signed things. It was completely sanctioned by Natwest.

“It helped the banking process and it was understood that because I had the power of attorney, I could sign her name and that is what I did.”

The trial continues

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