Andrew Gibson has made a career U-turn by taking his old job as chief executive of Highway Insurance.

Gibson's shock departure from Equity Insurance, which he joined last year as group finance director, has raised speculation that Highway is ready to start a major acquisition drive.

Highway managing director Chris Hill would not be drawn on whether Gibson's return would mean placing a bid for Hastings Direct or Carole Nash. He said:

"I'm sure we will assess all business opportunities for future growth. But it seems unfair to talk about things before Andrew has officially returned to his office.

"Andrew knows the business inside out, and Highway is now more stable, financially, much of it due to the hard work he put in before he left. I think the frustrations he had before when building the business have past and he can see potential in the business."

Gibson is now on gardening leave and is in negotiation with his former employer Equity on the terms of his departure.

Hill said that Gibson had relinquished his shareholding in Highway when he left. "An equity stake in the company is not part of the requirement of his new contract," he added.

Equity Group chief executive Neil Utley said: "Andrew and I have been talking about his role for some time and I think he felt frustrated that the finance role was not wide enough.

"He saw the opportunity to be a chief executive again and took it. We need to talk about an official start date and also about the equity stake he has here. We may need some back for the next guy."

Equity has recalled on an interim basis Richard Brewster, previously finance director of Cox Insurance.

Utley said Brewster was a "strong candidate" to take on the job full-time though other candidates would be interviewed.