Grieving mother in a paper chase for son's legacy

EVERY mother's worst nightmare came true for Dorothy Neish almost six months ago when she was told that her son John, who worked in Zimbabwe, had been killed in a car accident.

Since then, despite numerous letters and telephone calls, Mrs Neish has been unable to discover what has happened to an insurance policy started by her son with Prudential more than 20 years ago. She said she would like to use the money to provide for her son's five-year-old daughter, Lesley. However, because the policy was cancelled in circumstances that cannot now be ascertained, it will deliver up to £4,000 less than her granddaughter should receive.

This is because premium payements on the policy stopped in 1990. Many of the benefits to which her son was entitled were then frozen or discontinued. Although Prudential and her son's bank, Lloyds, have been sympathetic, she has reached stalemate with them. Neither's records show what happened to his premiums. Unless they budge, Mrs Neish's loss will be permanent.

She said: "When I heard my son had been killed, it really knocked me over, because his sister also died tragically in South Africa a few years ago. I originally wanted to use the insurance to pay for his funeral, but I was not able to get the money. Coming on top of everything else, it just seems so terrible.''

The cover Mr Neish took out in February 1974 was a whole-of-life policy. Under terms of the policy, his life was insured for £2,500, or double in the event of an accident resulting in death.

The premiums he paid were invested, so that the amount eventually to be paid out rose well above the original minimum insured sum.

Premiums of £30 a year were taken from his Lloyds account, but in 1988 Mr Neish closed one account with Lloyds and opened another. Prudential, however, continued to seek payment of its premiums from the closed account. The annual premium was paid from it in 1989, but was refused by Lloyds in 1990. Mrs Neish believes her son, who had worked for many years in Africa and travelled extensively for his company, was unaware of this.

"Given that the premiums were so small in relation to the benefits mounting up, I don't think he would willingly have given the policy up,'' she said. "There was always enough money in his account to make the payments, so that can't have been the cause either."

A Prudential spokeswoman said: "When we heard premiums had ceased because the account was closed, we tried to get in touch with him by sending a letter to a post office box in Zimbabwe, but received no reply.''

The company has no records to indicate whether the policy was ever deliberately cancelled.

Once the paperwork is sorted out, Mr Neish's policy will pay out about £8,000 to his mother. However, that sum has been frozen since 1990. In addition, Mr Neish also lost £2,500 payable as an additional accident bonus.

A Lloyds spokeswoman said: "Unfortunately, much of the paperwork regarding this case is no longer available. We therefore don't know what instructions the branch was acting on when it paid the direct debit in 1989 or when it returned it `account closed' in 1990.

"If the branch was remiss in its procedures, we would look at that sympathetically and do what we could to help put things right,'' she said.