Edwin Coe prepares Northern Rock suit against government

Edwin Coe prepares Northern Rock suit against government” />Edwin Coe partner David Greene is seeking to grow his group of Northern Rock’s smaller shareholders in anticipation of a lawsuit against the Government.

Greene told The Lawyer the small shareholders group will be contacting the UK Shareholders Association today (19 February) with the intention of setting up a website aimed at boosting its ranks.

Admitting that at this stage shareholders are not ready to launch a lawsuit, Greene added: “We have gone a bit beyond the wait and see stage and the next step is to pull shareholders together into a group large enough to represent smaller shareholders. At the moment I represent 6,000 of the 150,000 private shareholders, but that is not a large enough number.”

In 2001 Greene represented 50,000 Railtrack shareholders in their unsuccessful claim for government compensation after the company was put into administration by then transport minister Stephen Byers. He said a similar number of Northern Rock shareholders would be required to make the action representative.

That said, Greene pointed out that no decision on action will be taken until the Government has outlined the compensation package it will offer shareholders. While the bill drawn up to allow the bank’s nationalisation will be debated in parliament today, with Northern Rock expected to pass into public ownership as early as next week, the Government will have up to three months to calculate the value it will place on each share.

Shares closed at 90p on Friday before trading was suspended on Monday morning. It is anticipated that the Government will pay a fraction of that value to shareholders. Action could be taken on the grounds that the balance between the public interest and the property rights of shareholders was unfairly determined by the Government, which, said Greene, could constitute a breach of their human rights.

“There are legal arguments about the conduct of the Government,” said Greene. “The Government can, under our constitution, pass any legislation but it has to comply with the Human Rights Act and European legislation. It will have to pay appropriately for the assets it has seized. We are waiting to see how they will come to decide the compensation package.”

Hedge funds SRM and RAB Capital, who between them held a significant percentage of Northern Rock’s shares, are also weighing up their options in terms of legal action.

A source close to the hedge funds said a decision would be taken once details of the compensation package have been made available.