SAS general who dared - and lost pounds 400,000

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The Independent Online
Sir Peter de la Billiere, the Gulf War commander being blamed for breaching the SAS's tradition of secrecy with his books, is facing losses at Lloyd's of well over pounds 400,000.

The general, who is thought to have taken up writing to cover the losses, was underwriting on 27 insurance syndicates at the time of the war in 1990 and 1991. Some of them suffered huge losses.

Sir Peter stood down as president of the SAS Regimental Association recently amid claims that his memoirs, Storm Command and Looking for Trouble, had prompted a flood of unwanted SAS autobiographies, from Andy McNab's hugely profitable Bravo Two Zero to Harry McCallion's Killing Zone.

But his supporters say he broke the regiment's code of silence only because of his debts - many of which can be traced back to his time in the Gulf.

"The end of 1990 was precisely the time that he should have got himself off syndicates that subsequently ran up disastrous losses," said a Lloyd's insider. "If he had been in this country, there would have been people who would have said: 'Look here, old chap, you'd better get yourself out of that.'

"As it was, he was away fighting for Queen and country. He remained on syndicates now perceived to have been the places where Names [Lloyd's members] in the know dumped ignorant outsiders so they could bear all the losses. The statistics show that losses increased the farther away you were from Lloyd's. He was in the Gulf, and the amount of his losses would bear that out."

The worst-performing syndicates in Sir Peter's portfolio in 1990 were Outhwaite 317, with pounds 173m losses shared between 2,639 members; Wellington 406, with pounds 40m between 2,933; and Secretan 367, with pounds 52m between 4,583. With similarly poor losses the previous year, a Lloyd's expert said that Sir Peter would have lost pounds 242,524 in 1989 and 1990 on those three lines alone if he had been underwriting the average amount.

"When you take into account the other 23 syndicates he was on, the figure could be much higher," he said. "The worst three syndicates performed slightly worse in 1991, so it would be fair to almost double the amount."

A Lloyd's spokesman confirmed last week that a member wishing to remove himself from a syndicate would have to let his agent know in October or November, precisely the time when Sir Peter was sent to the Gulf.

Sir Peter was abroad last week. However his agent, Anthea Morton Saner, said: "There was no problem with him writing his books. He just thought he had been president long enough. His business at Lloyd's is something I'm sure he would rather not talk about."