A SCOT who has eventually managed to wed his Thai partner thanks to this newspaper has called for banks to improve the way they treat potential customers from abroad.

Ashby McGowan, a refugee activist from Glasgow, and Thanaporn Sonkew tied the knot in a Glasgow registrar’s office last month – a year after they went through a Buddhist wedding ceremony in her home country of Thailand, which was not recognised by the UK Home Office – and two years after they first confessed that they had feelings for each other.

Their on-off wedding in Scotland went ahead after three rejected visa applications and ensuing months of delays, during which he feared she might never be able to join him.

However, McGowan has only decided now to speak out about their treatment by the Bank of Scotland (BoS) – part of the Lloyds Banking Group – to help other people trying to migrate to Scotland.

He said his problems started when he went to his BoS branch to send a small amount of cash to Sonkew to help support her in Thailand, but he was told the account she was using was “not real” and never to send her money because she was “a criminal”.

“I was very upset and she was in tears for days,” he told the Sunday National. “But I was certain she was a liar and a cheat. She tried to convince me the bank was wrong for days.

“Both of us nearly gave up on each other. One of her friends convinced her to keep trying, even though I called her a liar and a cheat in an angry voice. Banks don’t make mistakes. Do they?”

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Sonkew sent him her bank details, which he had checked out and discovered they were genuine.

“It took her a long time to have feelings for me again. It still hurts her to talk about it,” he said.

“I complained to the Bank of Scotland complaints line and they apologised and sent £11 as compensation, which I gave to her as she now lives here.

“The bank complaints line said the Glasgow Sauchiehall Street branch would be told of their mistake and it wouldn’t happen again.

“The next time I wanted to send money, I went to the branch in Argyle Street. The manager said my beloved was a scam and would not send the money. I told her I had compensation for them making the same mistake before.

“She saw the compensation money in my account but kept me in the branch for two-and-a-half hours while I watched videos about scams, read a booklet about scams, and waited for the police to come.

“She [Sonkew] was very angry at me. It was my birthday and her family had learned to sing Happy Birthday to me in English. They were all asleep by the time the bank was finished with me.

“The police said it was obviously not a scam and I could send my own money where I liked. That was the law. They were not happy having to spend time in the bank interrogating me on a busy Saturday.”

Again McGowan complained and this time received £20 in compensation, along with an assurance that the branches he used in Sauchiehall Street and Argyle Street would be told he could send money whenever he liked.

“I also said that bank headquarters should send a note to all branches to say not every foreigner is a scam.

“For two years she kept asking me: ‘Do the bank still think I am a scam and a criminal?’ I had to answer ‘Yes.’ This hurts her very much.”

Despite two compensation payments, McGowan said the bank branches continued to cast suspicion on him and his fiancee and even held him “for checks” on more than one occasion.

The couple had further banking problems when they were trying to obtain a marriage visa, for which a joint bank account is required.

“Firstly we were told anything with her name on it at my address will do. Then it changed to a council tax bill sent by email (which we got). Then a council tax bill sent … after we applied for the marriage visa. Energy bills and a letter from Thanaporn’s landlord were again not acceptable.”

The couple were then told the only thing the bank would accept was a doctor’s letter saying she was staying at her present address.

McGowan said: “Four times the rules have changed. The last time in the branch we were left ignored in the corner for 20 minutes while we were told someone would come to help us.

“We were many times told her passport wasn’t genuine. But if it wasn’t, she wouldn’t be here!

“Again and again we were ignored or greeted with looks of disgust.

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“My [now] wife is dark-skinned but that should not make a difference in how she is treated, should it?”

He said most of the branch managers were obstructive, yet two individuals helping him to send money to his fiancee for the appropriate visa were in tears when they found out it was up to the Home Office to decide whether she could stay or be sent back to Thailand – even if they were married.

However, McGowan said they had a happy ending when they left the Bank of Scotland and went to other financial institutions.

“I went to Yorkshire Building Society and a Cooperative Bank branch in town. Both set up a joint account in 20 minutes and were helpful. No need for a doctor’s letter.”

He added: “The individual Glasgow Registry Office staff were brilliant – over two-and-a-half years.

“And thanks for all the support you and your paper have given. I don’t think we would have gotten the fiancee visa as (relatively) quickly without both [of] your help.”

A Bank of Scotland spokesperson said: “Protecting our customer’s money is of vital importance, with our fraud prevention measures a critical part of the way we do this.

“We monitor all of our customer’s accounts to keep them safe and we’re sorry that our service fell below Mr McGowan’s expectations on this occasion – we’re looking into his case and will be getting in touch with him.”