PRCA rejects complaint against Bell Pottinger following Independent sting

The PRCA has rejected a complaint against Bell Pottinger Public Affairs (BPPA) following a sting by The Independent.

Lord Bell: chairman of Chime Communications
Lord Bell: chairman of Chime Communications

The body’s Professional Practices Committee’s (PPC) disciplinary panel decision comes after  the paper, working with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, used reporters to pose as agents from the government of Uzbekistan.

It then reported on BPPA senior executives discussing access to senior government figures, including foreign secretary William Hague.

A complaint made to the PRCA by Mark Adams, boss of The Professional Lobbying Company, suggested that BPPA’s conduct as reported had brought the PRCA and the profession of political advocacy into disrepute.

However, the five-person PPC panel found that there was no credible evidence of wrong-doing on the part of BPPA.

This was based on the fact, they said, that the consultancy’s presentation to the fake client was fully compliant with the PRCA’s Code of Conduct and best practice guidelines.

The decision comes as the consultation over a proposed lobbying register overseen by cabinet minister Mark Harper approaches its end on 13 April.

Francis Ingham, PRCA CEO, said afterwards that the BIJ/Independent sting had failed in its ostensible purpose but had nevertheless raised points which the PRCA and its members should consider carefully.

‘Whether or not a prospective client is real or fraudulent, and whether or not a camera has been concealed in someone’s handbag, PRCA members should think hard before using language which is vulnerable to willful or accidental misinterpretation,’ he said.

Mark Adams, who filed the complaint and whose tip-off led to a cash for access scandal involving  former David Cameron aide Sarah Southern, commented on the decision in his Standup4lobbying blog this morning.

Adams, the former acting head of public affairs at Lansons, wrote:

'I can imagine the smirks today at Bell Pottinger, now that they have been cleared by the PRCA. No doubt they will interpret this as vindication for their unique style of public relations and public affairs. If so, that would be a bad day for my profession of lobbying.'

Lord Bell, chairman of BPPA parent company Chime Communications, appeared on Newsnight last night to defend the agency and lobbying in general.

He described the sting as ‘underhand, unethical and improper’ in PRWeek late last year.

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