The UK’s data watchdog has issued a formal apology to ex-NatWest boss Alison Rose, saying it was “incorrect” to suggest she had breached data protection laws by discussing Nigel Farage’s banking relationship with a BBC journalist.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) appeared to back-pedal on findings released last month, which originally suggested Rose had broken rules by confirming the former Ukip leader had accounts with the private bank Coutts, and misleading a journalist over why it planned to close them.
That ruling released on 25 October also said that the ICO did not plan to take any action, given that Rose had already resigned in July over the row. However, two days later the watchdog said it would urgently look again the findings after receiving a complaint from Rose.
In that second review, released on Monday, the ICO suggested it had mishandled the case, and the way it had communicated its main findings.
“We apologise to Ms Rose for suggesting that we had made a finding that she breached the UK GDPR [general data protection regulation] in respect of Mr Farage when we had not investigated her,” it said. “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 ICO stressed that the investigation, which followed a complaint lodged by Farage this summer, was solely aimed at NatWest Group, rather than Rose. The watchdog said it had also failed to give the former chief executive an opportunity to respond to its conclusions.
“Our comments gave the impression that we had investigated the actions of Alison Rose, the former CEO of NatWest Group. This was incorrect,” the ICO said. “We accept that it would have been appropriate in the specific circumstances for us to have given Ms Rose an opportunity to comment on any findings in relation to her role and regret not doing so.”
An independent review, commissioned by NatWest, determined last month that Coutts had a “contractual right” to shut Farage’s accounts, and had done so because the bank was losing money by keeping him as a client.
It also said that while Coutts was concerned that the former Ukip leader’s views on subjects including migration, race, gender or Brexit did not align with its own, it was “highly probable that the exit decision would not have been made had Coutts deemed the relationship with the client to be commercially viable”.
However, the lawyers identified “significant shortcomings”, including the tone of internal documents obtained by Farage in July, which suggested the bank was concerned about his alleged “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views”.