OPINION: NEWS ANALYSIS - No-one smells of roses in wake of RJH debacle - As the dust settles on the Sophie Wessex and Murray Harkin shambles, none of the protagonists emerge covered in glory, says Gidon Freeman

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

pages.



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

Walker.



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,'

comments another.



Whatever the rights and wrongs, Walker has been sharply criticised by

the media.



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

survival.



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

off stage.



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

former colleague.



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

last weekend.



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

mess.



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

inaccurate extracts,



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

resign.



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