by Sara McConnell
Barclays, the largest clearing bank, has bit back at critics of its cashpoint machines, saying it has "full confidence" in its network and that only one in every 34,000 transactions is disputed. The bank is preparing to defend itself in court against customers who say they have suffered "phantom withdrawals" from cashpoints.
J Keith Park, the Mersey-side solicitor, which is fighting nine banks on behalf of 400 customers, yesterday issued a summons of direction. This will result in a hearing, the date of which will be set next week. At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to grant a request from the plaintiff's solicitors to order banks to write to all their customers telling of the impending court action and asking them to join with it if they have had problems.
This could result in up to 250,000 people being joined to the action. the hearing will also decide whether to deal with each bank's customers separately, as banks are requesting. It is likely to set a deadline for plaintiffs to be joined with the action when it will set a trial date.
The multi-plaintiff, multi-defendant action will be the first test in court of the claimed infallibility of cash dispensers. Denis Whalley, solicitor at J Keith Park, said the court case "promised to be a real ding-dong".
Barclays said it would be "defending its position vigourously". It went on: "A cash withdrawal cannot be made from the bank's systems without a correctly programmed card and personal identification number. For all cash transactions and attempted transactions, Barclays has a full, detailed audit trail which provides documentary evidence of exactly how each transaction was made". It said of 171 million machine withdrawals only 5,000 were referred for investigation.