Internal rifts surface in tottering Merrett group: Underwriting chief isolated as flood of departures hits stricken Lloyd's agency

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The Independent Online
EFFORTS to save the Merrett underwriting agency at the Lloyd's insurance market intensifed yesterday, as suggestions mounted that there was a damaging boardroom rift within the group.

The long crisis continued as executives within what was once one of the most influential agencies in the Lloyd's community warred over the future of the company.

A flood of departures led by the agency's chief executive, Dennis Purkiss, and underwriters Ken Barrett and Stewart Laderman - who have all joined the Swiss reinsurance group Zurich Re - is likely to be swelled by the departure of Barnabas Hurst-Bannister, the underwriter for the Merrett organisation's main insurance syndicate 418.

Mr Hurst-Bannister was personally chosen by Stephen Merrett, the group's chairman, to take over the running of the syndicate after Mr Merrett decided to relinquish his responsibilities in May this year.

Yesterday, it became clear that Mr Merrett had become increasingly isolated in his tottering empire and that the group managing director, Stephen Cane, was attempting to organise an orderly wind-down of the business.

Mr Cane is trying to arrange a run-off of the insurance business of the group's two main syndicates, 418 and 1067. The remaining syndicates are likely to be disposed of through deals with rival underwriting agencies.

The crisis has been precipitated by a loss of confidence in the Merrett organisation following a wave of losses that has hit syndicate 418. Thousands of underwriting members have withdrawn their investment support and no new capital - in the form of companies, which are to be allowed to invest in Lloyd's next year - has shown interest in investing in the group.

Merrett's talks with two potential links with outside investors in the group have failed in the past few weeks.