NEWS: Ofgas considers United Gas call for inquiry

Ofgas director-general Clare Spottiswoode has told PR Week she will consider an investigation into claims that an anonymous campaign is being waged against independent gas company United Gas, if ‘issues of competition’ are shown to be at stake.

Ofgas director-general Clare Spottiswoode has told PR Week she will

consider an investigation into claims that an anonymous campaign is

being waged against independent gas company United Gas, if ‘issues of

competition’ are shown to be at stake.



United Gas managing director Roger Turner, who called for an Ofgas

inquiry earlier this week, said he has sufficient evidence to prove this

is the case. Turner claimed that United Gas has suffered commercial loss

as a result of the campaign. He also plans to press the DTI to examine

the case.



According to Turner, information about United Gas was first sent

anonymously to national newspapers and the trade publication Gas Matters

in 1994. ‘All the journalists who came to us had clearly received the

same set of information,’ said Turner. ‘We explained our business

strategy on a confidential basis for commercial reasons. All but one

national newspaper respected that confidence.’



Peter Bryant, deputy chairman of United Gas parent company Utilicorp,

said one of the company’s joint venture partners decided not to proceed

with a project ‘directly as a result of the articles in one paper. The

relationship was seriously damaged. There were financial implications’.



Turner said he was hopeful United Gas would find out who had sent the

information. ‘At the moment it is not clear where the envelopes relating

to us came from,’ he said.



In a further twist this week it was revealed that an internal British

Gas memo, containing inaccurate assertions about United Gas, had been

leaked to the Labour Party - again by an unknown source.



British Gas PR adviser Angus Maitland has come under fire in the press

for handing a document criticising Ofgas director-general Clare

Spottiswoode to the Independent. Spottiswoode dismissed the criticisms

as ‘juvenile’.



Maitland said he was not acting under a specific instruction from the

company in this instance, but that he regarded such briefings as part of

the normal work of a public relations consultant. ‘I have never sent in

documentation anonymously to a journalist - ever. They’ve always known

it has come from me,’ said Maitland.



A British Gas spokeswoman told PR Week: ‘There is no smear campaign

being run from British Gas.’ She added that the company was not in

possession of any information that would cause it to review its

relationship with Maitland.



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