Standard Chartered Bank Ghana Limited is in hot waters for negligently misplacing a 77-year-old retiree’s precious minerals deposited in its custody about 30 years ago.
As a result, the bank might be forced to pay $243,901.65 for the alleged conversion of Bernice Ward-Brew’s precious minerals including gold bars, jewelry in silver and gold, antique trade beads, commemorative solid gold coins, among others, which she deposited in 1983 and 1987 for safe-keeping.
The plaintiff, a retired educationist, is a longstanding customer of the bank which at all times operated current, saving and safe custody services for customers.
The suit was filed by the plaintiff at the Commercial Court in Accra on October 9, 2013 through her attorney, Mercer & Co. also in Accra after the bank allegedly failed to return the property, albeit admitting it was once in their custody but could not be traced presently.
The plaintiff is therefore seeking reliefs including “recovery and or return of plaintiff’s property deposited in the defendant’s Safe Custody on 8th August 1983 and 25th March 1987 comprising gold bars, jewelry in silver and gold, antique trade beads, commemorative solid gold coins and other precious items.
Alternatively, the plaintiff wants “the payment of the sum of $243,901.65, which is the current estimated value of the said property, as well as damages and cost.
Statement of Claim
In her statement of claim, the plaintiff averred that on or about August 8, 1983 she went to the bank’s Accra High Street Branch and deposited gold bars, jewelry in silver and gold, antique trade beads, commemorative solid gold coins, among others.
She said on March 25, 1987, she again deposited similar items with the bank at the same branch and added that in all the transactions, the bank “duly acknowledged receipt of the plaintiff’s property in defendant’s Safe Custody on the dates aforesaid.”
According to the plaintiff, the property deposited in the defendant’s Safe Custody formed part of a family heirloom acquired over three generations which was given to her and other siblings by their mother.
The plaintiff said she intends to “hand down the property to her children and generations yet unborn in accordance with family tradition.
The plaintiff averred that in or about November 2012, she submitted the receipts given to her by the bank at the High Street Branch and demanded the property.
She said in view of her old age, she decided to distribute the property among her children in accordance with family tradition.
The plaintiff claimed that “the defendant’s Manager at its High Street Branch persistently failed or refused to retrieve the plaintiff’s property from Safe Custody proffering excuses and requesting plaintiff to return at a later date for the property all to no avail.”
According to the plaintiff, there have been series of correspondence between her and the bank after the bank asked her to give them time to search for the property.
She said that the bank per letters dated February 28, March 15 and May 23 in 2013, acknowledged its inability to locate her property.
The plaintiff averred that “the defendant indicated in the aforesaid letters that over the past 30 years there had been many changes in the defendant bank and some movements of departments thus resulting in defendant’s inability to retrieve and deliver plaintiff’s property as demanded.”
She said the defendant’s reason, suggestive of the fact that her property could not be located because they might have been moved “constitutes a clear violation of the banker’s duty not to remove property from the premises where they were received for Safe Custody without express consent of the customer.”
The plaintiff averred that “the defendant’s failure, refusal and or neglect to retrieve and deliver plaintiff’s property for no reasonable cause despite repeated demands on defendant to do so leaves plaintiff with no option than to conclude that plaintiff’s said property may have been concerted by officers of the defendant and or negligently misplaced by the defendant.
She said the development was causing her “serious distress and suffering, and depriving her opportunity of fulfilling her desire of handing down the property to her children and generations yet unborn in line with her family tradition.
The plaintiff said that the property were priceless.
“The bank by its actions have evinced a clear intent not to retrieve and deliver the plaintiff’s property as demanded and shall persist in its failure, refusal and or neglect to return the said property to the plaintiff unless compelled by the court.
Stanchart Hits Back
Stanchart filed its statement of defence through its lawyers Gyandoh Asmah & Co. denying “each and every allegation contained in the statement of claim as if the same were set out in extensor and traverse seriatim.
The defendant denied paragraphs 4 and 5 of the statement of claim, saying the plaintiff deposited one brown parcel on August 8, 1983 and March 25, 1987 respectively and was issued with receipt clearly marked ‘contents unknown’ and ‘for safe custody’ with responsibility on the part of the bank.”
The bank said it terminated its safe custody 21-years-ago and accordingly needed time to refer to its records and safes to retrieve the plaintiff’s brown parcels.
“The items in safe custody can be moved to any safe location to the extent that the items remain in the custody of the defendant, and that there is no requirement for express consent of the customer as mistakenly being alleged by plaintiff.”