Agriculture secretary Nick Brown must be relieved. Dramatic
resignations of the heads of small PR firms are rarely followed up in
the national press, but the storm engulfing RJH Public Relations in
recent weeks has relegated the foot-and-mouth crisis to the inside
Hours of news footage and ten pages of the News of the World later, the
public is no wiser as to what the future holds for the colourful
dramatis personae who face life beyond a fraught last fortnight.
While most papers rightly focus on the implications for the Royal Family
and the working life of Sophie Wessex, possibly the most senior industry
figure to have been criticised is royal communications secretary Simon
A respected player in the industry, the former director of
communications at British Airways and adviser to John Major is reported
to have told friends that 'BA and Downing Street were a doddle' compared
to his work at the Palace.
Walker has been blamed by Press Complaints Commission director Guy Black
for allegedly trying to shirk the blame for the disastrous cock-up which
saw the NoW run the embarrassing 'My Edward is NOT gay' royal-approved
interview with Sophie, in exchange for the damning Mahmood tapes, only
for a version of their contents to see the light of day anyway.
In the most difficult week faced by the Royal Family for some years,
Walker has now gone on holiday. Palace sources say he had already
postponed the trip. Whether there is any message to be taken from this
is open to speculation.
Senior industry sources defend Walker, saying that he was scapegoated -
'a sacrificial offering' says one - by a Palace establishment desperate
to cover its own back.
'The Palace cherry picks its PR advice to the extent that the tactics
they choose go against the strategy the PR person has suggested,'
Whatever the rights and wrongs, Walker has been sharply criticised by
Media calls this week were being fielded by chief press officer Penny
Russell-Smith, while there is talk of Walker being confined henceforth
to organising the Queen's jubilee celebrations for next year.
Russell-Smith insists Walker's role was 'always going to focus on the
jubilee' and that he retains a key strategic role in royal PR.
At RJH PR the situation is even worse, with the agency fighting for
Wessex and Harkin both stood down last Sunday under the weight of NoW's
vast print run. Wessex may be relieved that attention shifted to Harkin
but she wasn't showing it.
Harkin - accused ten days ago of going to ground despite being at a
family funeral - has now genuinely gone into hiding. Allegations of
cocaine use and gay sex parties in Thai chalets appear to have sent him
While the IPR - of which both Harkin and Wessex are members - has said
there is no case for Sophie Wessex to answer with regard to its code of
conduct, it has done no such thing with Harkin.
The body has launched a preliminary enquiry into the allegations against
Harkin, following 'dozens of e-mails and phone calls' from members, but
without an official complaint actually being made.
If Harkin is found guilty, the IPR's disciplinary committee is empowered
to suspend or expel him from membership.
Wessex has now stepped aside as chairman, though she was locked in
crisis talks with fretful staff on Monday, and has agreed to stay until
a fresh structure under acting MD Jack Cassidy can be established.
If the media furore is anything to go by, her days at the agency -
indeed those of the agency in its current form - may be numbered. The
insistent tone of the Palace appears to count for more than the warm
vote of support she garnered from IPR president Ian Wright.
That brings us to Max Clifford, responsible for brokering the deal
between angry RJH account manager Kishan Athalathmudali and the NoW.
Both are, unsurprisingly, persona non grata at RJH, some of whose staff
question their motives in apparently attempting to destroy a respected
employer. 'I'm disgusted at Kishan's behaviour,' says one dismayed
Clifford remains unapologetic over his role in the set-up that floored
RJH. 'I'm glad it came out in the end and won't lose sleep over being
unpopular with RJH,' he says.
Onlookers must feel sympathy for the dozen RJH account staff who were
neither targeted by NoW nor mentioned in the deluge of media coverage
As they waited for news of job security this week - one client has
already quit the firm after an unpleasant mauling in the tabloids - they
are deserving of more concern than the people who landed them in this
HOW THE STORY DEVELOPED
Friday 30 March: News of the World declines to publish content of tapes
in lieu of an exclusive interview with Sophie Wessex
Sunday 1 April: While the News of the World publishes a Palace agreed
'My Edward is NOT gay' interview, rival tabloids print partial
Wednesday 4 April: The Palace accuses the PCC of colluding with the News
of the World, a suggestion it denies
Thursday 5 April: PRWeek questions Wessex's actions. Its views are
backed by Trade secretary Stephen Byers
Sunday 8 April: National press, including a ten-page spread in the News
of the World, detail Harkin and Wessex's comments to fake sheikh. Both