Claims that the new £5 note is “indestructible” unravelled yesterday as the Bank of England was forced to admit that a number had become so badly damaged that a police force mistook them for counterfeits.
The embarrassing disclosure came as Wadebridge Police in Cornwall issued an alert to locals warning that they had been made aware of “fake £5” notes circulating in the area.
According to the warning, which was issued on social media, the suspect notes were missing the gold imprint of the Elizabeth Tower, also known as Big Ben, and had green holograms rather than clear ones.
“Wadebridge Police have been made aware of some fake £5 notes in circulation. These are copies of the polymer type not but there are obvious differences,” it continued. “If you find yourself in possession of one contact your bank.”
However, a Bank of England spokesman was later forced to clarify that the notes were not counterfeit, but were instead genuine currency that been damaged due to “extreme use”.
The admission comes less than a year after the new £5 was introduced into circulation, prompting concern that the Bank’s claims that they will last twice the lifespan of their predecessor may have been overly optimistic.
Introduced in September last year, the new notes cost more than £70 million to develop and are expected to withstand extreme conditions, including a cycle through a tumble dryer at temperatures of more than 90C.
They are printed on polymer, a flexible plastic film that is also designed to be waterproof and stain resistant, and contain a number of additional security features including the foil Elizabeth Tower, the Queen’s portrait, and micro lettering.
But the note’s introduction has not gone without controversy, with a number of religious groups, animal right activists and vegan groups demanding that they be withdrawn because they contain traces of animal fat.
However, the Bank has confirmed that it will continue with the production of a new £10 polymer note featuring Jane Austen, which is to be issued in September.
Commenting on the latest setback, a spokeswoman said that the Bank had never claimed the notes were “indestructible” but added that they were both “stronger” and “longer lasting” than their predecessor.
“The Bank of England is aware that a small number of polymer £5 notes have been damaged due to extreme use, for example prolonged washing at high temperatures,” she added.
“In some cases this has resulted in the foil Elizabeth Tower being removed. These notes are damaged genuine banknotes not counterfeits, and a lot of other security features remain intact such as the Queen’s portrait in the window and the micro lettering.
“The Bank has not seen any counterfeit Churchill £5 notes printed on polymer.”