Bell Pottinger founder speaks out as firm expelled from UK body

Cape Town - Bell Pottinger co-founder Lord Tim Bell said in a radio interview on Monday evening that the whole board of Bell Pottinger should resign due to the work it did in South Africa. 

Bell, who quit as the company’s chairperson in August 2016, was speaking to Bruce Whitfield on Talk Radio 702's Money Show. 

Bell said it was a ”great pity” that Bell Pottinger had been kicked out of the UK-based Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) due to the work it had done for Oakbay and the Gupta family. 

“They had done something very stupid to get themselves in that situation,” he said. 

In a press statement embargoed for 01:00 on Tuesday, September 5, the PRCA announced that Bell Pottinger’s membership had been terminated.  

It would not be eligible to reapply for corporate membership for a minimum period of five years.

Fin24 decided to break the embargo after it came to light that the PRCA's statement was widely circulated under local media and interest groups.

"This is an immense public interest victory for South Africa," said News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson.

On Monday morning, Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson announced his resignation, saying he felt “deeply let down” by colleagues who misled him about the content of the Oakbay account. 

Asked by Whitfield what he thought should happen to other seniors members of staff, Bell said more should fall on their swords. 

“I think the other directors of the company should resign, with the exception of Piers Pottinger, who is innocent of any charge (and) is not involved with what goes on in London and South Africa. 

“I think the company should offload its shares to other people and the company should be run by somebody else,” he said.  

Henderson is so far the only member of staff to resign over the Oakbay account.

Four employees, including partner Victoria Geoghegan, were dismissed in July. 

Henderson’s resignation came as the findings of a report by international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills were published regarding Bell Pottinger’s work for the Guptas on Monday. 

The firm found that Bell Pottinger’s work for Oakbay was “potentially racially divisive” and breached ethical principles.

Bell, meanwhile, said he expected more people to leave the public relations firm. 

“I think it is the beginning of a tide of resignations," he said.

Asked whether this was the "end" of the company he co-founded, Bell replied: "no, not necessarily. But it could be ... It depends on the people who own the business."  

Listen to the interview:

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