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Steve Burch, the chief executive of troubled UK cable monopoly Virgin Media, surprised industry watchers today by quitting the firm for "family and personal reasons".

The company said it would soon begin a search for a permanent replacement. In the meantime chief operating officer Neil Berkett will take the reins.

Burch assumed control of NTL in January 2006 and oversaw the merger with Telewest and subsequent rebranding as Virgin Media. The integration of Virgin Mobile created the first quadruple-play communications operator, but has so far failed to attract many new punters.

Instead, Virgin has been embroiled in a public relations and legal battle with Sky since February this year over the price of the Murdoch TV channels.

Behind the scenes, investors became frustrated with the lack of progress on several fronts and demanded a private equity sellout, which later had to be put on hold because of the current economic climate.

There's a statement here. ®

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