Client: Lambeth Council
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: The disappearance of Bunmi Shagaya
Timescale: 2 July - ongoing
On 2 July, London schoolgirl Bunmi Shagaya disappeared near a lake while
on a school trip to France with her classmates. Tragically, three days
later her body was found in the water - she had drowned.
Her school, Hill Mead Primary School, is in Brixton in the borough of
Lambeth. Because the tragedy had happened overseas, neither the
Metropolitan Police nor the French police could drive the response to
the media, so the responsibility fell to Lambeth Council's
communications department to take the lead.
To communicate to the media that the school understood there were
questions to be answered, that the school was doing everything it could
to help Bunmi's parents, the parents of the other children on the trip,
the teachers on the trip and those left at the school.
Strategy and Plan
When the news that a child had gone missing started to filter through to
the council on the evening of 2 July, Lambeth council's director of
communications Robert Blower knew there was going to be an onslaught of
However the immediate concern was for the family of the missing child
and for the parents of her classmates. They were told the news as early
as possible the next morning.
One pressing problem was that Lambeth was not getting much information
from the police in France. But, to try to hold off media interest, a
press conference was called for 1.30pm that day. Present were Michael
Peters, Lambeth director of education, the chief inspector of Brixton
police and the deputy head of Hill Mead school.
All three had briefed the parents of the children that morning - a
tactic that Blower says paid dividends, as all of the parents were very
supportive of the school in their own dealings with the media.
The most the press conference could do was talk about Bunmi herself, but
it established lines of communication with the media. Lambeth press
office liaised with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see if it
could get information from the French police.
A press officer was camped outside Hill Mead School to answer
journalists' questions and provide feedback.
The press office installed six phone lines and held press conferences in
the morning and afternoon, when it would release a statement. It made
Peters available for interview.
When the children returned home from France, Blower negotiated for one
cameraman's footage to act as a pool for the others to ensure an
absolute minimum of media intrusion.
Measurement and Evaluation
Lambeth monitored coverage to ensure that key messages were getting
through and, where there was misinformation, to correct it. And it also
identified areas where it felt it could have performed better.
Relationships with the press were improved and the messages coming from
parents were supportive of the council's actions.