Norwich staff demand inquiry after intimidation by private detectives: Women reject compensation cheques on principle. Husband says he was punched outside his home

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The Independent Online
NORWICH UNION staff who were harassed and intimidated by a detective agency are refusing to accept compensation until an investigation is started into the entire episode.

Norwich gave a pounds 2,000 cheque to Janice Julian and pounds 1,000 to Sue Harper after apologising in open court for the behaviour of Magnum Investigators International.

The incidents occurred during a probe into a fraud involving the sale of salvaged cars written off after insurance claims.

James Julian, husband of Janice Julian, said yesterday: 'Norwich sent a cheque but it was not accepted. Sue Harper refused to bank her cheque. It is a matter of principle.'

The two women, who had nothing to do with the fraud, are still employed by Norwich. It emerged in court that as well as hiring Magnum International, the detective agency, Norwich paid a further pounds 60,000 to a man with a criminal record to 'assist them in their inquiries'.

Mr Julian is seeking a wider inquiry into what happened during the investigation.

He added that he was attacked and punched outside his house, and the attacker's car was identified and seen later at Norwich Union premises.

The local police were falsely told that he was about to be arrested in connection with the fraud case, claimed Mr Julian.

He believed that as a result the police did not press charges against his attacker. He said he was told later by a police officer that it had been a

'clear-cut case of assault'.

Norwich hired Magnum to investigate a fraud involving the sale to Metro Breakers of salvaged cars, which were still worth as much as pounds 20,000 each.

The day after the judgment in favour of Norwich was given in the High Court on 28 January, Magnum went into creditors' voluntary liquidation with a deficiency of pounds 547,000.

But it emerged yesterday that Christopher Lee, the 54-year-old principal of the firm - who also headed the Norwich inquiry - is continuing to trade as a detective under virtually the same name, Magnum Partnership, from the same London address and telephone number.

An employee identifying himself as an investigator said: 'The business is running under a different name, Magnum Partnership. Mr Lee is the managing director.'

During the court case, in which Mr Justice Rivlin went on to accept the insurance company's claims of fraud against Metro Breakers, Norwich apologised for what the judge called 'the considerable trauma and distress to which a number of entirely innocent and respectable employees were subjected'.

The judge said evidence about Magnum, which was unchallenged, was disturbing. 'If it is right, Magnum resorted to deceit and intimidation. They made wild and objectionable allegations . . . of disgraceful conduct which they could not hope to substantiate. They harassed potential suspects and potential witnesses,' some of whom were 'deeply distressed by their experiences'.

He added that this left a 'burning sense of grievance that their own employers could have instituted such an inquiry and allowed it to take place under their own roof'.

Mr Justice Rivlin asked that transcripts of the employees' evidence be copied and sent to the chairman and board of directors 'so that they can see for themselves what is alleged to have taken place in their name.

'They might also be deeply concerned to learn that at the behest of the investigators, Norwich Union paid no less than pounds 60,000 to a man who, I have learnt, has a criminal record, to 'assist them in their inquiries'.'

Norwich said last week it had taken the judge's remarks extremely seriously and the matter was put to the board. But it was unable to comment on its employees' refusal to cash the compensation cheques.

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