Client: Kent Police
Campaign: Response to media after Chinese immigrants found dead at
PR Team: Kent Police press office
Timescale: June 2000
Budget: under pounds 1,000
The grim discovery at the port of Dover of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants
who had suffocated in the back of a Dutch-registered goods lorry sparked
a massive international criminal investigation - and worldwide media
From the moment Kent police chief press officer, Mark Pugash, was woken
by a telephone call at 12.50am on Monday 18 June, he had several
One was to ensure the criminal investigation was not hindered by
unprecedented press interest.
He did not want a media scrum, and instead wanted his team to assist the
200-plus journalists, while maintaining a consistent, neutral line.
The in-house press team also had to work within the law, being careful
not to say anything that might prejudice subsequent court
Strategy and Plan
It was vital Kent detectives were not disturbed by a media frenzy, and
were left to examine the crime scene during the first crucial hours of
the investigation. By mid-morning on 18 June, the port was awash with
reporters, photographers and camera crews, filing to the US, Canada,
China, Japan, Scandinavia, Australia and Europe.
In 1995, at the height of the animal export protests at Dover, Pugash
and the chief constable of Kent had agreed that the chief press officer
would deliver all statements, and field answers from the press at future
incidents of national or international interest. This was to ensure
detectives could get on with their job and consistency could be
The deaths at Dover saw this ’major incident contingency plan’ swing
into operation. Pugash arrived at the scene at 3am and the first
reporters arrived soon after. Pugash was in constant dialogue with
senior police officers, and gave preliminary briefings.
He instructed his colleague, Jane Walker to join him at the port, and
for the other team members, Gianna Pollero, Lee Stella, and Karen Noble,
to man the phones at the Maidstone control room. That day they answered
691 calls, compared to the previous Monday, when they answered 41.
Pugash was aware that the story carried political weight. The smuggling
of illegal Chinese immigrants is a political football in the US, Canada,
Australia, the UK and the rest of Europe and he wanted the force to be
seen as neutral.
Initially Pugash and Walker were at the centre of media scrums. But
Pugash maintains the world’s media behaved impeccably because ’when they
wanted a comment, no matter at what time, they were given one’. He knew
many reporters had different deadlines, and arranged to appear whenever
they needed him for live interviews.
He fronted all media interviews. Walker was the journalists’ point of
contact and co-ordinated interviews, and commandeered the ISDN link at
the Port Authority.
At the forefront of the PR officers’ minds was that every statement
during the course of the week, no matter how innocuous, could not be
prejudicial to a fair trial: despite the pressure, everything had to be
Measurement and Evaluation
An in-house team at Kent Police ensured that all media coverage was
accurate and took corrective measures if there were any
The Kent Police PR team were championed by media outlets, and by senior
police officers, because of its professional handling of the
Pugash said the atmosphere among his team remained positive throughout.