Terry Murden: In the absence of malicious intent, this is really punishment for incompetence

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FORFEITING his knighthood and part of his pension looks like an act of self-denial that may help the public to forgive him. But in reality the mob has finally got its man.

The soon-to-be-dethroned Sir James Crosby has accepted his part in the downfall of HBOS and done what many will see as the honourable thing.

He admitted to the parliamentary commission on banking standards in December that whether or not he kept his knighthood was for others to decide. He accepted that his reputation and his achievements would never again be seen in the same light. Since then, it just got worse.

Understandably, he will want to see a line drawn quickly under the furore that followed the recent damning report into the bank’s collapse for which he was attributed with a large slice of the blame. That report was peppered with colourful accusations, but left those who led HBOS to catastrophe with no worse a fate than possibly being forced to find a job outside the financial services sector. Unfortunately, under a three-year City rule governing investigations the findings may have come too late for them to be punished in this way.

In reaching his decision, Crosby has had the benefit of seeing what befell Fred Goodwin, his former counterpart at Royal Bank of Scotland. Such was the level of hysteria that Goodwin was close to being carried down the Royal Mile and burned outside the gates of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

An analyst at Standard Life Investments this week described the calls to remove Crosby’s title as little more than a witch-hunt. It has looked this way since Goodwin was publicly humiliated. But neither man was guilty of more than incompetence and misjudgment.

The public is rightly outraged by bankers’ behaviour, but in the absence of malicious intent, let alone a crime, this quest to remove honours is nothing more than a punishment for failure. If all those who have failed were to make the same gesture of forfeiture there would be a long queue forming outside the palace gates.