NEWS: British Gas should have assured Cedric Brown a dignified exit

‘Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells’ has nothing on me. The more I have looked into the background to the Scott inquiry into our trade with Iraq the less confidence I have in whatever its report has to say this week. And I was Krakatoan on the Richter scale when I saw the treatment meted out by the media to Cedric Brown, retiring chief executive of British Gas.

‘Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells’ has nothing on me. The more I have looked

into the background to the Scott inquiry into our trade with Iraq the

less confidence I have in whatever its report has to say this week. And

I was Krakatoan on the Richter scale when I saw the treatment meted out

by the media to Cedric Brown, retiring chief executive of British Gas.



Scott’s anti-PR can wait until next week. I must get Mr Brown off my

chest now. He was treated like a criminal on TV after BG had announced

its restructuring and his retirement on a pension of pounds 247,000 a

year, plus a pounds 120,000 one-year consultancy. The original fat cat

was pursued by a media mob down a corridor and cornered in a room in

which he was locked.



The police were summoned. The media refused to budge until Mr Brown had

explained himself on camera. The mob won. BG had yet another PR disaster

to its name. Mr Brown’s ‘was one of the most undignified corporate exits

since Robert Maxwell’s’, as the Daily Telegraph put it.



I am, of course, no stranger to the wolf pack. I know what it is like to

face it, red in tooth and claw, when it pursues its quarry, heaving,

seething, hissing and felling anyone in its way when it thinks it may be

denied. Mr Brown was not unduly maltreated in my experience. But it was

not a pretty sight - neither for British Gas, nor for anyone who has the

slightest desire to maintain free and unfettered journalism in Britain.



Next day I read the papers. And what did I discover? TV cameras had been

excluded from the BG press conference. Mr Brown had only reluctantly

submitted himself to writers’ questions. Reading between the lines, he

had evidently hoped to get away without saying anything to anyone about

the further riches, expressed in telephone numbers, he had managed to

acquire on his retirement. Worse still, judging from his eventual

performance, he had not prepared any persuasive defence of his position.



All this does not excuse the media from behaving like a posse bent on a

lynching. Sooner or later journalists will have to examine their

treatment of individuals in the public eye. They are abusing their

power. But so were British Gas and Mr Brown. Shareholders and consumers

alike are entitled to know what they have to say for themselves - in the

newspapers and on radio and TV alike. It is difficult to believe that

any professional could have advised the company to behave as it did. If

they did, then those professionals should consider their position

forthwith. If their advice was rejected, BG’s top brass should go

immediately. In this age of accountability, they are a menace to their

company - and to British industry.



Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in