Michael Bright's departure follows a difficult period for Independent, writes Claire Veares. Market confidence in the company crumbled after a 42% drop in its 2000 operating profits to £40.1m.

The company's share price has plummeted from a peak of 401p at the start of the year to 113p earlier this month, recovering to 133.5p as we went to press.

Because of that, Bright, who owns around 6% of the company, has seen his personal stake fall to less than £20m from a high of £59m. He will remain with the company as deputy chairman.

On March 20, Bright was granted 263,989 shares under the company's long-term incentive plan.

Independent has been hit in the past year by losses from its French operations and unprofitable fleet motor and property lines.

It has also been affected by the increasing popularity of no-win no-fee cases, which was partly behind the decision to increase its stop-loss reinsurance cover.

The increase in cover was recommended by the company's independent auditors Watson Wyatt and £105m is being paid for £248m of cover.

This premium is being met by £39m in cash and £66m by a charge on the company's property assets.

The original reinsurance cover was taken out to address problems arising from its involvement in the London Market in 1997 and before.

Bright's departure was announced

by Independent chairman Garth Ramsay at the annual general meeting.

Ramsay will run the business until a replacement for Bright is found. Michael Baughan will be the other deputy chairman.