Foot-in-mouth seems to have affected the insurance industry as badly as the disease

has infected the UK's sheep and cows. Last week, Tom Warde-Aldam, a farmer from Hexham, Northumberland, made headlines with a heart-wrenching story of insurer cruelty.

He claimed his broker Marsh Private Client Services had been refused a renewal on his policy, despite insuring his cattle against foot-and-mouth for the past 30 years, because it lapsed in the seven-day period when his farm was in the thick of the epidemic. It had informed him that a Lloyd's syndicate had refused to renew the section.

Both were then pilloried. However, on closer inspection, Marsh had been more tactless than

callous. QBE, the insurer in 2000, had pulled out of the market, and the new insurer, XL Brockbank, was not taking the risk. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, this information was not given to the farmer or to journalists.

Michael Bright, chief executive of Independent and president of the Chartered Insurance Institute, recently complained that insurers were the whipping boys of the press, pointing to the coverage during last year's floods. True enough, but the industry does itself no favours when it fails to explain itself. Shoot the messenger, not the sheep, as Tom Warde-Aldam might say.

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