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LONDON -- The insurer that wrote a travel policy held by broker Benfield Group Ltd. is not liable to pay claims to survivors of two executives killed in a 1996 helicopter crash, London's Commercial Court has ruled.

Matthew Harding, who was chairman of Benfield Group, and Tony Burridge, a director, were traveling by helicopter on Oct. 22, 1996, to Bolton, England, from London to watch a match involving the Chelsea Football Club, of which Mr. Harding was a director.

As part of the journey, the two men were to visit a factory in Oswestry, Shropshire, where the balloon in which Richard Branson hoped to circumnavigate the world was being made. Benfield Group had agreed to sponsor Mr. Branson's record attempt, and the stop in Oswestry would have provided a publicity opportunity for Benfield.

Also on board were Brett Warburton, a director of Bolton Football Club, and his cousin Jonathan Warburton, with whom Mr. Harding had hoped to form a business relationship.

Mr. Harding and Mr. Burridge also were expected to discuss business matters during the helicopter trip, court papers state.

The travel insurance policy held by Benfield Group, now part of Benfield Grieg Group P.L.C., provided life and accident coverage to directors and employees of the company for "journeys undertaken by the insured persons on (the company's) behalf."

Representatives of the two executives sought coverage under the policy, which the insurer denied, prompting this lawsuit.

Judge Tuckey of the London Commercial Court dismissed the claim brought by the estates of Messrs. Harding and Burridge, ruling that while there had been a company purpose to the journey, its primary purpose had been to attend the soccer match.

A spokeswoman for Benfield Grieg Group declined to comment on the case, saying it was a "private matter."