After a raid on the firm's head offices at Tunbridge Wells, Kent, solicitors found 123 pirate copies of a staff training video which retails at pounds 1,000. A tip- off by a former Reliance employee sparked a 10-month investigation by solicitors working for two companies making the videos, Melrose Film Productions and Video Arts, founded by the actor John Cleese.
Reliance, which has 25 offices in the UK, was alleged to have held group screenings of the video as part of its staff training programme. Following the tip-off the two video companies instructed the solicitors Hewitson Becke & Shaw to investigate. Ian Craig, partner in charge of the firm's litigation department, said he assembled evidence from former staff over 10 months.
He applied to the courts for an Anton Piller - a draconian search and seize order - and raided Reliance offices and found the videos and manuals. Mr Craig said 99 per cent of cases brought for video piracy came from employees turning informant, usually in return for a reward from the Training Film and Video Association.
In his court affadavit Mr Craig described Reliance's breach of copyright as 'institutionalised'. He said: 'This is the largest amount paid in a case involving the association and is twice the previous highest paid out.'
Reliance refused to comment. It is a further embarrassment for the insurance firm, which has faced investigation by the life assurance watchdog, Lautro, over its home income plans and student insurance policies.
However, a spokesman said Lautro had never taken disciplinary action against the firm.