Letter from Penrose Inquiry 12 June 2003

Last Updated: Friday, June 13, 2003 06:12 PM

The following correspondence was between Hugh Burns, who is assisting Lord Penrose, and Michael Joseph


Dear Michael,


Thank you for your email.


Lord Penrose told Mr McFall in February that the aim, as published in the open letter last November, was completion of the report this summer. He expanded on the timetable to make clear how critical a path this was, and what were the realities of aiming more ambitiously for delivery in time for possible publication before the parliamentary recess. Lord Penrose made clear that that timetable was very much subject to factors that were outwith our control.


At the beginning of May Lord Penrose wrote again to Mr McFall to inform him that it was by then clear that the more demanding timetable for possible publication ahead of the recess was no longer feasible. The witness stage had been more extensive than anticipated, in part because we had been more successful than expected, rather than less, in persuading witnesses to co-operate.


If I may, I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the more cynical reactions I have seen to recent press articles. There has been no intervention by the Government.


As for withholding the contents of the more recent letter from Lord Penrose to Mr McFall mentioned above, we have not published that second letter because it might have been seen as a discourtesy to the committee to do so. But I would not regard the contents as particularly mysterious, and I have given you a fair indication in this message.


And on witness co-operation, as I told the FT when asked, the number of witnesses invited to give testimony who have declined for whatever reason is small, less than expected, and we do not believe that the absence of their testimony will significantly reduce Lord Penrose's ability to draw firm conclusions. I have no intention of commenting on the co-operation of specific witnesses at this stage, but nothing I have told the FT or that has subsequently been reported in the press gives any grounds for the suggestion that the inquiry has been hampered in any way by its lack of formal powers to require co-operation from government or regulatory officials.


The important thing is that we are continuing to progress as fast as we are able, with a view to finishing the report this summer if at all possible, as we were aiming to do last November. There is still much to do, but we have a dedicated team here, who are working very hard to complete what is a very large and difficult task methodically and conscientiously.


I hope you will not take it amiss (it is not directed at you) if I indulge a little frustration and observe that it is unhelpful to the team and to Lord Penrose, who is a person of great personal integrity, to be assailed with allegations of cover-up and conspiracy. Judging by the response we get through the mail, it simply causes confusion and upset to the public, particularly Equitable Life policyholders, and diverts us away from the inquiry.


Yours sincerely,


Hugh Burns

Secretary to the Inquiry

12 June 2003

Dear Hugh
Thank you for the most helpful response.
Many of us on this side of the fence tend slightly towards paranoia, perhaps with some reason.
Personally I am not surprised about the delay because, as I mentioned when we met in February,
I consider that the Inquiry has a task of awesome dimensions.

I have also reached the opinion that all compensation and rectification schemes should be put on hold until the report is available.  There is now such a disparity between the original assumptions and the true reasons for Equitable's collapse that no sensible dialogue can take place without a new frame of reference being established.


The establishment of such a new frame of reference is surely as one of the most important practical results expected of the Inquiry.

Warmest regards
Michael Josephs
12 June 2003