Gripping yarn that was out of this world

People & Business
The London insurance broker who offers insurance against road rage, death by poltergeist and post traumatic stress disorder for Newcastle United fans suffering from the departure of Kevin Keegan has come clean on his big Christmas hoax.

He did not pay out pounds 1m to Joseph Carpenter who claimed he had been abducted by aliens.

Simon Burgess of Grip, a self-confessed publicity seeker, said yesterday: "It was a good Christmas tale. Joseph the Carpenter claims he saw a star- shaped spaceship coming in from the East witnessed by three wise men." He is still dining out on the tale and is off to Rome next week to appear on a chat show.

A spoof insurance policy junkie who makes things up to escape the humdrum world of insurance, Mr Burgess is already working on his next stunt: the Millennium Virgin policy.

It will insure chaste maidens against immaculate conception. He is hoping to arrange for - guess who - Richard Branson to present the cheque.

John Hoerner of Burton has won the NatWest Securities retailer of the year award. The amiable American topped the poll ahead of Sir Graham Kirkham of DFS Furniture and Lord MacLaurin of Tesco, who finished third for the second year running.

Mr Hoerner, who became chief executive in 1992, secured nearly 20 per cent of the votes, making him a clear winner. John Richards, NatWest's stores analyst, said: "Burton has come back from the dead twice and its current renaissance under the quiet but determined guidance of John Hoerner looks far more durable than its 1980s rise." Since his appointment as chief executive Burton's profits has risen from pounds 6m to pounds 150m.

Also featuring in the poll were Sir Geoff Mulcahy of Kingfisher, marking a return to form and a first appearance from Carpetright wizard Lord Harris of Peckham. Last year's winner was Archie Norman of Asda.

Fortune magazine need not have been surprised that its attempt this week to place a full-page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal was greeted with a firm "No thank you".

Even though it would have provided revenue of $100,000, the ad in question was not to the taste of the Journal's owner, the Dow Jones company.

It was to have promoted recent articles in Fortune detailing a revolt by Dow Jones shareholders about its stagnant share price and exposing the activities of Michael Price, the prominent New York money manager, who has accumulated more than 5 per cent of the company.

In comments that other Journal rivals took pleasure in reporting yesterday, including the New York Times, Fortune's head of marketing, John Needham, said: "It appeared that senior management of Dow Jones is interfering directly in the operation of the Journal."

Pat Carter, the dapper chief executive at Westminster Healthcare, is developing something of a love affair with Scotland if his latest expansion plans are anything to go by.

And there is something fishy about the notoriously keen angler's choice of locations. Westminster operates the most northerly nursing home in Britain in Thurso, Caithness. This property was acquired when the wader- clad Mr Carter was indulging in a spot of salmon fishing in the area.

Now he is setting his sights further north and is considering opening another home in Orkney. This choice has nothing at all to do with the high quality and free brown trout fishing to be enjoyed in most of the local lochs.

Roger North looked a distracted man yesterday. The Ushers of Trowbridge chief executive was in the City drumming up support for the pub and brewing group's forthcoming float but was on the edge of his seat throughout lunch.

About to become a grandfather for the first time, he was keen to dash to a phone to check on his daughter-in-law's progress.