Anthony Hilton: Did NatWest Three need PR help?

I have been wondering why an interview last week on Radio 4 about the NatWest Three should have proved so irritating. The issue being discussed was what PR skills had been brought to bear to get the bankers so much publicity in their extradition fight.

I have not seen any PR at all. Indeed, the only PR link was perhaps two years ago, when I was sent an email by a firm linked to the Three's solicitors.

One should note, though, that those pictures of the bankers and their families did not appear in the papers and on TV by magic, so there clearly was some PR at play, but only indirectly.

When news of the bankers' involvement with Enron surfaced a few years back, I devoted considerable effort to getting the story, but failed to shift it past the Evening Standard's libel lawyers - which is not without its irony.

One reason was the absence of balancing quotes from the bankers: there was none because they were a lot less willing to talk to newspapers than they are today. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were hostile.

So it rankles to think that this attitude might be forgotten, and favourable media coverage turned on like a tap, simply through the intervention of some silver-tongued PRO.

Happily there is a more worthy issue at hand. This story matters because of the abuse of civil liberties thanks to the disgraceful state of our extradition law. Whether the bankers should face trial in America is not the point. My sympathies are not with them  - and whether or not they are guilty is not the issue. What matters is the loss of protection for UK citizens forced before the law.

I think the Radio 4 interview annoyed me because of the implicit suggestion that our newspapers need PR intervention to place even a story as important as the plight of the NatWest Three.  My real fear is that perhaps they do.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard.

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