Real cash or counterfeit? To fury of islanders, not even the banks knew

WHEN police first raised fears of a flood of counterfeit banknotes on to a Scottish island, businesses were quick to react.

Banks tightened up their routine checks, shops invested in ultra-violet scanners - said to be the only way of spotting what were believed to be high quality forgeries - and one businessman even tore up notes condemned as fakes and flushed them down the toilet.

But now, business leaders in the Western Isles have criticised banks and the police after further investigation found there was nothing suspect about any of the notes at the centre of the forgery alert.

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At the height of the scare, several retailers in Stornoway stopped accepting 10 and 20 notes, while the Bank of Scotland also refused notes which they believed to be counterfeit.

However, after specialists examined notes seized on the island, police have confirmed the money was real all along.

Alarm grew in the town towards the end of last month after a pub and an Indian restaurant were said to have been conned by the counterfeiters of many hundreds of pounds in Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank, and Bank of England notes.

Comhairle nan Eilian Siar trading standards officers even issued a press release urging shops and businesses to scrutinise cash from customers, and telling them that ultra-violet light scanners would help detect the security markings on genuine notes.

Northern Constabulary sent a batch of notes that had been refused by banks to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), the UK-wide body responsible for major crime such as money-laundering. But confirmation arrived at the weekend that all the notes tested were in fact real.

Inspector Robbie Macdonald of Northern Constabulary said: "To date, all the notes examined by Soca have been found to be genuine and will be returned to the complainers."

The U-turn by police has left many people on the island angry. Ann Robinson, who runs a flower shop, bought a UV scanner with her husband, Bill, owner of Stornoway's Willowglen Garden Centre, after the Bank of Scotland returned some of their notes as fakes.

"If they are not fakes, we have been holding customers back needlessly to check all their notes," said Mrs Robinson. "We have spent money on scanners for no reason because we were given the wrong advice."

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Another businessman, who asked not to be named, said: "I tore up the 20 notes returned by the bank as fakes and I put them down the toilet to stop them getting back into circulation. I thought that was my public duty. How do I prove that and who will compensate me?"

A spokesman for the Bank of Scotland said: "We found what we thought were inconsistencies with some banknotes and as a precaution we set these notes aside so they were no longer in circulation."