By Glen Owen
Last updated at 11:21 PM on 24th January 2009
Britain was just three hours away from going bust last year after a secret run on the banks, one of Gordon Brown's Ministers has revealed.
City Minister Paul Myners disclosed that on Friday, October 10, the country was 'very close' to a complete banking collapse after 'major depositors' attempted to withdraw their money en masse.
The Mail on Sunday has been told that the Treasury was preparing for the banks to shut their doors to all customers, terminate electronic transfers and even block hole-in-the-wall cash withdrawals.
Only frantic behind-the-scenes efforts averted financial meltdown.
If the moves had failed, Mr Brown would have been forced to announce that the Government was nationalising the entire financial system and guaranteeing all deposits.
But 60-year-old Lord Myners was accused last night of being 'completely irresponsible' for admitting the scale of the crisis while the recession was still deepening and major institutions such as Barclays remain under intense pressure.
The build-up to 'Black Friday' started on Monday, October 6, when the FTSE 100 dropped by nearly eight per cent as bad news on the economy started to multiply.
The following day, Chancellor Alistair Darling began all-night talks ahead of an announcement on the Wednesday that billions of pounds of taxpayers' money would be used to pour liquidity into the system.
But shares continued to plummet, turning into a rout on the Friday when the FTSE crashed by ten per cent within minutes of opening.
Both Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS were nearing complete collapse - but Lord Myners, who built up his fortune during a long career in the City, said the problems ran far wider.
'There were two or three hours when things felt very bad, nervous and fragile,' he said. 'Major depositors were trying to withdraw - and willing to pay penalties for early withdrawal - from a number of large banks.'
The threat to the system was so severe that the Bank of England was forced to contact RBS's creditors in New York and Tokyo to persuade them not to withdraw their funds, but it is not known which other banks faced a run on their reserves.
'We faced the very real problem of how banks could stop depositors from withdrawing their money,' a Treasury source said yesterday.
'The banks themselves were selling their shareholdings, accelerating the stock-market falls, and preparing to shut up shop. Mortgages would have been sold on and savers would have been spooked, to put it mildly. It would have been chaos.'
After a weekend of crisis talks, which concluded at dawn on the Monday, it was announced that Lloyds TSB was taking over HBOS, supported by £17billion of taxpayers' money, and RBS would receive an injection of £20billion - prompting the resignation of RBS's infamous chief executive, Sir Fred 'the shred' Goodwin. Share prices at last started a small rally.
Ruth Lea, economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, said last night that it was 'highly irresponsible' for Lord Myners to reveal the scale of the problems because it could serve to further wreck already fragile levels of confidence.
'We are not out of the woods yet,' she said.