As with most scandals where the hand of ubiquitous 'PR guru' Max
Clifford is detected, the 'Sophie Wessex sees Fake Sheikh at Dorchester'
affair has mileage in it yet.
Despite royal PR efforts, it seems unlikely we have heard the last of
the tapes made when the News of the World's Mazher Mahmood recorded both
Wessex and her RJH PR partner, Murray Harkin, in an alleged
Five weeks ago, RJH account manager Kishan Athalathmudali approached
Clifford with claims of sharp practice at the firm. He was, he told
Clifford, known as 'Mr Negative' to colleagues, due to what he sees as
his 'stern approach' to ethical issues.
Clifford took his side, and with the assistance of Mahmood, Wessex and
Harkin were caught on tape. Clifford claims the material in last week's
Sunday newspapers is 'just the tip of the iceberg'.
That material is itself contested. A leak from within the NoW - for
which a mole-hunt is thought to be underway - made the Palace aware of
the tapes' contents ten days ago.
This led Wessex to write letters of apology to the Prime Minister, his
wife and the leader of the opposition for her comments to Mahmood. The
deal struck - that the NoW would pass up the material in return for an
on-the-record chat with Wessex - fell apart last Friday. Clifford and
his team ensured the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror got scoops in
spite of the deal.
Clifford does not suggest that Mahmood colluded with some of his
employer's direct rivals. But he says he himself was 'deeply
disappointed' by the NoW's decision not to run the original story.
Attention is expected to focus this weekend on comments to Mahmood by
Harkin, who has kept a low profile all week. Harkin may have been
indiscreet with Mahmood, but he has told lawyers to keep a close eye on
this weekend's tabloids.
A question mark hangs over the relationship between Clifford and the
NoW, a paper which has proved useful to him for more than a decade. He
remains supportive of editor Rebekka Wade. She was, he feels, forced by
legal advice to accept the Palace deal against her wishes. Having done
all the work, only to spike the story and then be scooped, must have
been, in Clifford's words 'sickening'. Wade declined to comment.