Sun Alliance writes off libel loan

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SUN ALLIANCE, one of Britain's largest insurance companies, has written off most of a pounds 530,000 loan made to Lord Aldington, its former chairman, to pay the legal costs of a libel action.

The decision was announced at the company's annual meeting in London yesterday by Sir Christopher Benson, the chairman, to end protests about the loan that had disrupted meetings for the past four years. But he faced a barrage of questions, which ended with the ejection of a shareholder.

Sir Christopher said Lord Aldington had been expected to repay the loan after winning the libel action and being awarded pounds 1.5m damages plus costs.

'Although a claim is still being pursued againt Count Tolstoy's assets, it does not seem particularly likely that the order of the court in respect of damages and costs will be fully satisfied.' The group decided to write off pounds 450,000 of the loan.

The action started in 1984 when one of Sun Alliance's shareholders complained about its refusal to pay a claim following his brother-in- law's death. His campaign for payment included issuing pamphlets, written by Count Tolstoy, alleging Lord Aldington was a war criminal.

Sun Alliance decided the harassment was the result of Lord Aldington's review, and subsequent approval, of its decision relating to the claim, and said he should be helped with legal costs.

The loan dispute overshadowed questions from another shareholder who said directors' pay had increased by 71 per cent since 1989 while dividends had gone up just 18 per cent and staff's salaries by 18 per cent. Sun Alliance countered that employees' overall benefits had risen by 57 per cent.