The cover featured a stone facade engraved with the name Lloyd’s of London
and an ominous crack running through it.
Inside was a special report entitled The Decline and Fall of Lloyd’s of
London. It launched into details about asbestosis, insurance claims, the alleged
fraudulent recruitment of Lloyd’s members (or Names) in the US, and so on.
It brought back some unpleasant memories. I followed the Lloyd’s saga for
years, and can tell you that being cornered by a Name at a cocktail party is a
fate worse than death. Embittered, obsessive, deranged… words fail me.
Readers may recall that Lloyd’s was clobbered by a succession of disasters in
the late 1980s. A North Sea oil platform called Piper Alpha inconveniently blew
up and couple of hurricanes thoughtlessly trashed great swathes of Florida.
Having enjoyed a steady income for years, the Names suddenly discovered the
meaning of unlimited liability. Lloyd’s losses were passed on to the members,
and they weren’t too happy. Thousands turned up for Lloyd’s annual meetings in
the early 1990s.
Lloyd’s saved itself by creating something called Equitas to draw a line and
take on unquantified insurance losses trailing back decades. The Names were
largely replaced by corporate backers, removing much of Lloyd’s prestige.
But court action by Names alleging they were recruited under false pretences
ensured that the misery dragged on for years.
The Time article was premature, of course, but I can’t help thinking Lloyd’s
had a lot more going for it in the days before corporate capital took over. Just
don’t tell the Names.
Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist and writer
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