It's a disgrace and untrue, says Horlick

Nicola Horlick vowed last night to "undo the great wrong that has been done against me", accusing her former employer, Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, of orchestrating a press campaign against her which had distorted and misreported events.

According to friends, Mrs Horlick had done her utmost to hold her team together in the face of threats to quit from a group of five key fund managers. She acted as an innocent go-between with MGAM's chief executive, Robert Smith, her friends claimed.

"Then the company turns round and accuses her of being the ringleader," a friend said. "It's a disgrace and completely untrue. She's a very determined woman, a sort of young Margaret Thatcher, and she's going to get this thing corrected come hell or high water."

Sources sympathetic to Mrs Horlick's position say she was profoundly shocked by the way in which Keith Percy, the man who had recruited her, was fired with four colleagues in the wake of the Peter Young debacle.

She believed Mr Percy had been made a scapegoat and had fallen victim to a press campaign to get rid of him. She had been horrified by the way in which his sacking had been leaked and did not believe a claim by Michael Dobson, head of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in London, that the leak had not come in an authorised fashion from the company's public relations firm, Brunswick.

But she fought hard to keep clients, assuring them that she had no intention of leaving. Morale had none the less gone into a rapid downward spiral.

It was also a difficult time for Mrs Horlick on the domestic front. Her daughter's leukaemia had relapsed and the child was undergoing chemotherapy.

During this period Mrs Horlick had gone to Mr Smith, subsequently appointed chief executive, and begged him to help her hold the business together. However, once in the top job, Mr Smith abandoned Mr Percy's open-plan desk structure and had his own office installed "with frosted glass".

For many this proved the final straw. Three weeks before Christmas Mrs Horlick went to Mr Smith to tell him that some younger members of the team were getting "fractious".

Two weeks before Christmas a senior member of that team came to Mrs Horlick and said that he had received an ultimatum from five colleagues that if she were not given a position of authority to sort out the mess they would all leave. Mrs Horlick discussed the threat with her business committee at which she expressed her own loyalty to the company.

It was agreed that the business committee would agree a title for Mrs Horlick which would give her the authority to pull the organisation together.

On the afternoon of 10 January Mr Smith offered her the title of managing director. There was a long discussion about future plans for the business. Mrs Horlick was also told what her bonus for 1996 would be. Eventually she accepted the position. She met the rebels again long into the night, and finally succeeded in convincing them to stay.

This Monday, rumours began to circulate about mass defections from MGAM. Mrs Horlick was called at home by "a good friend" about the rumours, which included her, but utterly denied them. The next day she was summoned to Mr Smith's office where she was suspended for alleged breach of contract.

She was escorted to her office to collect her belongings, told to hand in her pass to the building and ordered not to talk to staff or journalists.

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