Off the hook: UK case against Bell Pottinger partners involved in Gupta PR campaign dropped

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A Cosatu member holds a placard in march against corruption and state capture in September 2017 in Durban.
A Cosatu member holds a placard in march against corruption and state capture in September 2017 in Durban.
Gallo Images / The Times / Thuli Dlamini
  • The UK's Insolvency Service has halted legal action against three ex-Bell Pottinger partners.
  • The three were part of the PR firm's disastrous campaign to try to shield the Gupta family from criticism. 
  • Bell Pottinger collapsed in late 2017 when other clients deserted it because of its Gupta-related work. 
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

A bid to hold three ex-partners of fallen PR giant Bell Pottinger liable for its disastrous campaign for the Gupta family in SA has been closed.

The UK Insolvency Service has said it will no longer pursue a case to have former partners James Henderson, Victoria Geoghegan and Nick Lambert disqualified from acting as company directors.

"We have discontinued the directors disqualification action brought against three former members and directors of Bell Pottinger LLP and Bell Pottinger Private Limited," a spokesperson said, adding: 

The Insolvency Service keeps all its cases under regular review to ensure we are delivering the best outcomes for the public, and the decision was made that it was no longer in the public interest to proceed with this claim.

The service started legal proceedings against Henderson, Geoghegan and Lambert – who are all still in the PR industry – in 2020. Its initial disqualification claim argued that the conduct of the three on the Gupta account "contributed in part to the failure of Bell Pottinger" and brought the PR industry in the UK into disrepute.

Henderson, who served as Bell Pottinger's CEO when it was working with Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments, also confirmed the case had been shelved. He declined to comment further.


The storied UK-headquartered reputation management firm collapsed in September 2017, just months after emails between it and the Gupta family were released as part of the #GuptaLeaks

They showed how Bell Pottinger staff, including Geoghegan and Lambert, crafted a PR strategy to shield the Gupta family from allegations of corruption by claiming criticism was part of a racist plot to undermine economic transformation.

The emails galvanised civil society to call for action against the company. As clients started to desert it, Bell Pottinger was probed and quickly expelled from the UK's main PR industry body for doing work that was likely to "inflame racial discord".

It was placed into administration in September 2017 and liquidated two years later. 

The term "Bell Pottinger," meanwhile, became a byword in SA for ham-fisted attempts to skew public opinion by using all the dark arts of PR.   

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