PR firm boasts about training Brooks

By Oliver Duff

Public relations company Bell Pottinger's senior executives described how they prepared the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks for her evidence to Parliament and also helped her to choose which police station she would like to be arrested at and questioned.

David Wilson, chairman of Bell Pottinger, and Tim Collins, managing director of its public affairs wing, also talked in less-than-complimentary terms about News International's public relations strategy after the hacking scandal broke.

Brooks - who retained Bell Pottinger after her resignation this July, and who has denied any knowledge of hacking - is unlikely to be impressed by the firm's apparent readiness to mention its role in her PR strategy while pitching to possible clients.

Collins told undercover reporters - working for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism with the Independent - posing as possible clients that Bell Pottinger helped prepare Brooks to give evidence to MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport committee shortly after her arrest on suspicion of making corrupt payments to police and conspiring to intercept voicemails.

"She spent all yesterday morning in the room opposite this corridor while we were very rude to her to prepare her for the select committee," said Collins.

"We were four hours in a waiting room adjacent to the committee room waiting to go in.

"She was really upset actually, in tears when Rupert got attacked because he is her mentor. He's almost like a father figure to her. I know there are stories about her in the past, I didn't know her too well in the past, so I won't comment on whether she was ruthless or whatever, I must say I see a very honourable, honest woman who's trying to fight to clear her name at the moment."

Collins said Bell Pottinger's advice had stretched to helping choose which police station she should be questioned at.

"Dave was on the phone: 'No, that nick's not quite right, no no, that one's got a car park, no that one's down a tunnel', and I thought he was on to some very dodgy part of the criminal underworld but in fact it was his brother-in-law who's a police officer."

Wilson, who has acted as a spokesman for Brooks since her resignation, said he had waited outside for her while she was questioned. "She's been very open and honest and said, 'I didn't know a thing, didn't know any of it'. She said that yesterday and to be honest I believe her.

"Sunday [I was] actually sitting in the front seat of a car in a side street round the back of a police station in a certain London borough waiting for 12 hours until she came out having been arrested and taking one call and having four waiting - it was quite interesting stuff."

Collins bemoaned News International's initial handling of the phone-hacking crisis from a PR perspective.

"Dave's the PR expert but the problem from our perspective is News International were making a lot of mistakes in the two weeks or so prior to [her resignation] and they've just started making fewer."

Brooks could not be reached for comment yesterday.

ROYAL LINKS CLAIM SPARKS OUTRAGE

Bell Pottinger boasted of its "links" to the royal family to potential clients representing a brutal central Asian dictatorship and suggested it might be able to organise a royal tour of the country on their behalf.

Buckingham Palace yesterday angrily rejected the lobbying and PR firm's claims.

One of Bell Pottinger's most senior executives suggested to undercover reporters posing as representatives of the repressive Government of Uzbekistan that a royal visit could form an end target in an"overall strategy" to improve the regime's image.

David Wilson, the chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Relations, told the journalists his company had links with the royal family and referred to "suggestions" that Prince Andrew will "follow where the chequebook is".

The reporters, purporting to represent the Uzbek cotton industry, asked Bell Pottinger if it had links with the royal family and whether a royal visit to Uzbekistan would be helpful, mentioning Prince Andrew had been "quite a good ambassador for British aid".

Wilson replied: "Absolutely. Yes we have links in there. It needs to be part of an overall strategy. Rather than actually piecemeal it needs to be part of an overall approach. It may be that we seek something there."

Buckingham Palace flatly rejected any suggestion that royal visits could be arranged to meet private interests. A spokesman said: "It is entirely untrue that Bell Pottinger, or any other PR firm, has any influence whatsoever on the activities of the Duke of York, either in the UK or abroad. Royal visits ... are determined by the independent Royal Visits Committee."

- Independent

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 29 Dec 2014 16:58:43 Processing Time: 550ms