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FactCheck: Did a Belfast bank post a notice describing balaclavas as 'unsuitable' face coverings?

A tweet sharing a photo of a notice at a NatWest branch suggests that the notice was displayed in Belfast.

A PHOTO SHARED widely on social media of an unusual notice displayed in the window of a NatWest bank has attributed the location to a branch in Belfast.

The image, which has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media, suggests that NatWest bank issued a notice to customers inside a branch to describe balaclavas as an ‘unsuitable’ face covering.

The Claim

The photograph shared on social media shows a piece of paper with an image of a medical face mask that covers the nose and mouth, and of a balaclava that covers the entire face.

The mask and balaclava are printed with captions describing them as “suitable” and “unsuitable” respectively.

NatWest Tweet

The NatWest logo is printed at the top of the page, with “face covering” printed in bold capital letters above the clippings of the mask and balaclava.

The image has been shared by multiple users on social media platforms, including Twitter and Reddit. One tweet sharing the image, which has been retweeted 6,700 times and received over 43,000 likes, described it as the “most Belfast sign you will ever see in your life”.

The Evidence

In fact, NatWest bank does not operate any branches in Belfast, or elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

The bank’s nearest geographic location to Belfast is in Douglas on the Isle of Man, 106 kilometres from Belfast.

NatWest does not operate any ATMs in Northern Ireland, or any cash and cheque deposit machines.

NatWest is under the RBS group, a partly state-owned banking and insurance company with headquarters in Edinburgh, alongside the Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank, NatWest Markets and Coutts.

Additionally, the notice posted on the window was not an official NatWest customer notice. TheJournal.ie understands that a member of the public put the unofficial notice on the window inside a NatWest bank somewhere in Britain, and it was later removed by a member of staff when it came to their attention.

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The image of the balaclava is taken from a stock clip art illustration.

Although when seen on its own, the message can appear like a joke or meme, there was nothing to immediately indicate that it was a joke on Twitter, where many people appeared to be taking it seriously.

In the UK, face coverings will be mandatory in shops and supermarkets from 24 July for customers, and strongly recommended for staff.

The Verdict

Although balaclavas are frowned upon by banks, NatWest did not post a notice in a Belfast branch to describe them as “unsuitable” face coverings.

NatWest does not operate any branches in Belfast, or anywhere in Northern Ireland. The notice, which was placed in the window of a NatWest branch elsewhere in the UK, was not an official customer notice, but is believed to have been placed by a member of the public.

As a result, we rate the claim that the image was shared in a Belfast NatWest branch: FALSE. As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here. 

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