CAMPAIGNS: Media Relations - Police satisfy the media and the law

Client: Kent Police

Client: Kent Police

Campaign: Response to media after Chinese immigrants found dead at


PR Team: Kent Police press office

Timescale: June 2000

Budget: under pounds 1,000

The grim discovery at the port of Dover of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants

who had suffocated in the back of a Dutch-registered goods lorry sparked

a massive international criminal investigation - and worldwide media



From the moment Kent police chief press officer, Mark Pugash, was woken

by a telephone call at 12.50am on Monday 18 June, he had several


One was to ensure the criminal investigation was not hindered by

unprecedented press interest.

He did not want a media scrum, and instead wanted his team to assist the

200-plus journalists, while maintaining a consistent, neutral line.

The in-house press team also had to work within the law, being careful

not to say anything that might prejudice subsequent court


Strategy and Plan

It was vital Kent detectives were not disturbed by a media frenzy, and

were left to examine the crime scene during the first crucial hours of

the investigation. By mid-morning on 18 June, the port was awash with

reporters, photographers and camera crews, filing to the US, Canada,

China, Japan, Scandinavia, Australia and Europe.

In 1995, at the height of the animal export protests at Dover, Pugash

and the chief constable of Kent had agreed that the chief press officer

would deliver all statements, and field answers from the press at future

incidents of national or international interest. This was to ensure

detectives could get on with their job and consistency could be


The deaths at Dover saw this ’major incident contingency plan’ swing

into operation. Pugash arrived at the scene at 3am and the first

reporters arrived soon after. Pugash was in constant dialogue with

senior police officers, and gave preliminary briefings.

He instructed his colleague, Jane Walker to join him at the port, and

for the other team members, Gianna Pollero, Lee Stella, and Karen Noble,

to man the phones at the Maidstone control room. That day they answered

691 calls, compared to the previous Monday, when they answered 41.

Pugash was aware that the story carried political weight. The smuggling

of illegal Chinese immigrants is a political football in the US, Canada,

Australia, the UK and the rest of Europe and he wanted the force to be

seen as neutral.

Initially Pugash and Walker were at the centre of media scrums. But

Pugash maintains the world’s media behaved impeccably because ’when they

wanted a comment, no matter at what time, they were given one’. He knew

many reporters had different deadlines, and arranged to appear whenever

they needed him for live interviews.

He fronted all media interviews. Walker was the journalists’ point of

contact and co-ordinated interviews, and commandeered the ISDN link at

the Port Authority.

At the forefront of the PR officers’ minds was that every statement

during the course of the week, no matter how innocuous, could not be

prejudicial to a fair trial: despite the pressure, everything had to be


Measurement and Evaluation

An in-house team at Kent Police ensured that all media coverage was

accurate and took corrective measures if there were any



The Kent Police PR team were championed by media outlets, and by senior

police officers, because of its professional handling of the


Pugash said the atmosphere among his team remained positive throughout.

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