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Product Equitable Life findings delayed until summer

The Penrose inquiry has confirmed it will not publish its findings into the Equitable Life collapse until next summer and is ruling out an interim report despite calls from MPs.

The secretary to the inquiry issued an open letter last week confirming the publication timetable after Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman Vincent Cable condemned the slow progress of the inquiry and demanded that Lord Penrose publish at least some findings soon.

The letter said summer publication could be delayed if witnesses fail to co-operate, unexpected new lines of inquiry are found or time has to be spent dealing with witness objections.

In October 2001, Treasury Financial Secretary Ruth Kelly said the inquiry would be published by the end of 2002 but in a debate in Parliament last week she ruled out an interim report, telling MPs “an artificial deadline would be counter-productive”.

Lord Penrose, a senior Scottish judge, whose inquiry had to process more than 500,000 documents from Equitable Life before interviewing witnesses, will be grilled by the Treasury select committee in January.

In a Commons debate last week, Cable said the delay in the conclusion of the Penrose Inquiry is seriously obstructing the progress of pre-1999 cases brought to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. He said: “What is emerging is an epic PhD thesis, not a snappy investigation into the fundamental causes of the problem.”

Annuity Direct director Stuart Bayliss says: “Penrose has a hell of a lot of information to go through – there are over 70 different sorts of policies with guarantees attached.

“All policyholders can do is keep up the pressure in the same way people like Vincent Cable keep doing. However long it takes, the issue that won&#39t go away is whether the level of regulatory negligence is sufficient to merit compensation.”

•Equitable Life is appointing former Abbey National group finance director James Tyrrell as finance consultant to fill the place vacated by the resignation of chief finance and investment officer Charles Bellringer.

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