Theft claimant makes a drama out of his crisis: When an insurance company refused to pay, the chairman found his home being picketed. Leo Burley reports

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The Independent Online
WHILE Commercial Union may not make a drama out of a crisis, it seems content to play a role in the odd farce. Rodger Minas, a self-employed plumber, is staging a one-man pavement campaign against the company after its refusal to reimburse him for the theft of more than pounds 5,000 in travellers' cheques, cash and possessions from his car during a Spanish holiday last year.

Commercial Union's decision is based on its assertion that the car was left unattended for the best part of the day, even though Mr Minas, 36, his wife and their two young children say that they were inside the Fiat estate when the theft occurred in March 1991. Mr Minas, from Chiswick, west London, said: 'There was a loud crash like a shotgun going off. A split-second later a rock came through the back window and then an arm came in and took away our blue holdall with everything in it.'

Two appearances in front of the Insurance Ombudsman - the last two weeks ago - have failed to resolve the dispute, with the Ombudsman merely stating that 'given the differences in views', the matter needed to be dealt with by a court.

Despite having an independent witness to the theft, Mr Minas is caught in the frustrating legal trap of having too many assets to claim legal aid and not enough money to sue his insurers, Traveller's Insurance Association, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Commercial Union.

Instead, he has decided to embarrass Commercial Union into honouring its policy. Since April he has been picketing the Chiswick High Street branch of Lloyds Bank, where he bought the policy, with a banner stating: 'This bank sold me a false promise', accompanied by a magnified copy of the policy's promise of service.

On Wednesday of last week, Mr Minas extended his picket to the Notting Hill home of Nicholas Baring, chairman of Commercial Union.

'I'm here to campaign about the way they (the company) left me to beg', one of his hand-written placard reads. 'Small man v big business', reads another.

His vigil was interrupted last Friday when Commercial Union applied for a restraining order against Mr Minas, who defended himself successfully against charges of harassment and trespass.' The judge said that I'm allowed to walk up and down and to picket peacefully, which is what I was doing anyway,' he said. Mr Minas estimates that Commercial Union's costs for the action were more than pounds 7,000, far in excess of the value of his original claim.

Ian Frater, a spokesman for Commercial Union, said that the company had fully investigated Mr Minas's claim but could not accept it as valid. 'There were a number of discrepancies and contradictions in the claim and he has changed his story twice.'

Mr Frater expects that the claim will be settled in court. 'The ombudsman has upheld our decision twice. Mr Minas now has the option to go to court and we will see him there.'

(Photograph omitted)