CAMPAIGNS: How to cope with a dictator’s visit - Crisis Management

In October 1998 the former Chilean president General Pinochet arrived in the UK to undergo an operation on his back at Priory Healthcare’s London clinic.

In October 1998 the former Chilean president General Pinochet

arrived in the UK to undergo an operation on his back at Priory

Healthcare’s London clinic.

During this period, the UK Government was considering a request from the

Spanish courts to extradite Pinochet for crimes against humanity.

Pinochet was discharged from the clinic but was later admitted to

another of Priory Healthcare’s hospitals, Grovelands Priory Hospital in

Southgate, to have treatment for post-operative stress.

After two weeks of treatment, Pinochet attended an initial bail


Being pronounced fit, he was asked by the hospital to leave as his

treatment was complete. In spite of repeated requests, Pinochet and his

entourage stayed a further two weeks.

Grovelands became the focus of the world’s media. Concern was growing

about the disruption to other patients and local residents by the

presence of pressure groups, the press and armed police. Priory

Healthcare was being portrayed as the exclusive London hideaway of an



To deny any sympathy for Pinochet’s cause. To re-establish Priory

Healthcare as a leading hospital group - not an exclusive hotel chain -

providing non-elitist, independent treatment.


It was of paramount importance for Priory Healthcare to remove Pinochet

to protect its brand. However, it was also vital not to be seen as being

unsympathetic or overtly aggressive in its course of action - the

decision to leave needed to come from Pinochet himself.

Harvard was fielding between 40 and 50 calls every day, but because of

patient confidentiality, could not comment on the General’s health.

Harvard and Priory Healthcare’s marketing department decided that direct

media communications was the only way to make Priory Healthcare’s stance

clear. It produced a short statement with a quote from the clinic

clearly stating that it had asked Pinochet to leave and sent the release

to the broadsheets.


The statement appeared the following day on the front pages of the

Independent and the Guardian and on page three of the Times and the

Daily Telegraph.

By 11am, Pinochet was packing his bags in preparation to leave that


Harvard’s role was now to manage the departure and liaise with the


The agency talked directly to News at Ten, the Nine O’Clock News, Sky

and IRN. It also faxed a statement to the Press Association at 5.45pm -

just as Pinochet passed through the front gates of Grovelands.

This statement reiterated Priory Healthcare’s position and thanked

Pinochet and the police for expediting his move. Press coverage in the

following morning’s papers was sympathetic towards the clinic.


Direct communication with the media proved the fastest and most

effective way to remove Pinochet, let the world know the clinic’s stance

on the former dictator and rescue its professional reputation before any

major damage was done.

’I was pleased with the outcome,’ says Priory Healthcare’s marketing

director Jazz Panchoo. ’We didn’t want to get involved in the media

circus or with political wranglings. We maintained our good name both

nationally and with the local community.’

Client: Priory Healthcare Ltd

PR Team: Harvard PR

Campaign: General Pinochet goes to ground at Grovelands Priory Hospital

Timescale: November 1998

Budget: Undisclosed

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