Indie convictions make the headlines
“Independent Insurance chiefs guilty of fraud”, The Times announced on the front page of its online business site at about 4pm on Tuesday, before launching into 650 words on the verdict. The headline “Independent Insurance chief faces jail after being found guilty of fraud” appeared on the front page of the business section on Wednesday morning.
“Independent founder faces prison term” popped up on the front page of The Telegraph’s business site around the same time, followed up with “Independent bosses found guilty of fraud” one the front page of its business pull-out the next morning.
“Independent Insurance chiefs face jail” said the Guardian on the front page of its financial section, also noting that the “cover-up has echoes of Maxwell affair.”
“Insurance bosses face jail after fraud verdict” said The Independent, claiming the insurance company’s collapse was “one of the most damaging commercial disasters in recent British history.”
The FT dedicated most of page three of its Wednesday edition to the verdicts with the headlines “Former insurance executives face jail” and “Calamity of market darling”. The convictions were described as “the final acts of a drama laden with hubris and some timely warnings about the nasty corporate surprises that emerge during market downturns.”
“Independent Insurance bosses convicted”, said the Evening Standard, dedicating 500 words to the subject.
Even Channel 4 had heard: “Insurance bosses guilty of cover-up”, its business site proclaimed.
And of course, the BBC chipped in: “Businessmen guilty over cover-up” was listed as one of the top ten stories for England on Tuesday evening.
After all, the collapse of Independent Insurance had repercussions far outside the world of insurance. The fact is, it was one of the UK’s “worst commercial disasters” – a point that the national and London press have been keen to stress.
When a company valued at £1 billion, with 500,000 private and 40,000 corporate policyholders, dwindles away into nothingness – or indeed, ends up costing the taxpayer over £400 million in outstanding policy claims – the whole country takes note.
Repercussions were also felt on a more personal, empathetic level. Thousands of Independent employees lost their jobs and savings as the value of their share options sank to nothing, while individuals with no other ties to the company suddenly found themselves without car insurance.
This is why the convictions of Michael Bright, Philip Condon and Dennis Lomas for conspiracy to defraud have found such prominence in the press – and especially that of Bright. Photographs of him outside Southwark Crown Court took centre stage in every publication, with only a few dedicating space to Condon and Lomas.
Revelations of Bright’s tearful courtroom breakdowns also featured prominently. After all, people love nothing more than to see the rich and famous fall off their pedestals – and even more so when they haven’t played by the rules.
“One of Britain's foremost insurance entrepreneurs broke down and wept in court today after he was convicted of fraud. He faces years in jail”, said Simon English of the Evening Standard.
Channel 4 noted that Bright was “once lauded as one of the country's leading businessmen” and that he “wept in the witness box at Southwark Crown Court as he insisted that, like his co-accused, he had only ever done his job openly, honestly and to the best of his ability.”
And of course, the Guardian was keen to point out that “despite being sacked and made bankrupt with debts in excess of £4m, [Bright] has managed to keep all three homes” through “deals between his wife and his trustee in bankruptcy.” He also “spent the six years since he was dismissed living on his £3m pension pot.”
The press have also taken hold of the fact that the win is of massive importance for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which had been struggling to force convictions in a number of complex and lengthy cases, and faced severe criticism for dropping the investigations into arms dealing between BAE Systems and the Saudis. And of course, the fact that the trial will bring with it a similarly massive lawyers’ bill was mentioned.
“Meanwhile, the bill for the taxpayers continues to grow, not least because of the trio’s multi-million pound, four-month trial and one of the Serious Fraud Office’s most complex and expensive investigations”, Dearbail Jordan pointed out in The Times, also describing the win as “hugely important” for the SFO.
The Independent dedicated half of its Outlook column to the success of the SFO in bringing convictions – this was “one in the eye for the critics of the SFO, unkindly dubbed the Serious Farce Office by Private Eye” according to David Prosser.
Sympathy also went to the jury members at the marathon four-and-a-half month trial.
Channel 4 noted that it was “one so complex Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, had to encourage them ‘to keep going’.”
The insurance world will take weeks to digest the news of the verdicts, but for a few days at least, the entire country will be hear about a collapsed insurance company and the men that helped bring it down.