Former partners of Bell Pottinger, the public relations firm that collapsed in 2017 amid a scandal over its work for one of South Africa’s wealthiest families, are facing the prospect of protracted bans in meeting rooms. .
Sky News learned that several former agency heads, including former chief executive James Henderson, received warnings from the government’s Insolvency Service that they should be subject to formal disqualification proceedings.
The so-called Section 16 letters, which are known to have been published in recent days, mark the most recent chapter in the spectacular implosion of one of Britain’s best-known public relations outfits.
Image: Bell Pottinger co-founder Lord Bell died last August
In a statement released to Sky News, an Insolvency Service spokesman said: “We can confirm that the Insolvency Service has written to several members of Bell Pottinger LLP, informing them of the intention to take action to disqualify them.
“As this matter will now be tested in court, it is not appropriate to comment further.”
The spokesman declined to comment on the individual recipients of the letters or the length of the proposed bans, although a source indicated that they were members of the company’s limited liability partnership.
If they proceed, the process should be opened by mid-September – the statutory three-year period since the Insolvency Service investigation began.
Bell Pottinger – founded by the late Lord Bell and Piers Pottinger in the 1980s – imploded almost three years ago, after an exodus of clients sparked by work for the Gupta family, which the UK public affairs agency concluded had the potential to ignite “racial discord”.
Previously, the company had worked for a number of top British companies, foreign multinationals and foreign governments, generating millions of pounds of profit each year.
In accordance with the Disqualification Act for Company Directors, the Insolvency Service may request prohibitions of up to 15 years for bosses whose conduct does not meet the required standards of integrity.
Sources said the Insolvency Service had passed its recommendations for action to Alok Sharma, the business secretary – under whose mission the body is.
Under Henderson’s leadership, Bell Pottinger has become one of London’s most successful financial public relations companies, paving the way for FTSE-100 accounts such as Centrica, the owner of British Gas, and Friends Life, the group of financial services assumed by Aviva.
He also handled work on a series of billion-pound corporate transactions, such as one involving BP and Rosneft, the Russian state-backed energy giant.
Bell Pottinger’s annual summer party, held in a historic London center, drew ministers, captains of industry and figures of the royal family.
Lord Bell, who died last August, was widely considered Margaret Thatcher’s favorite spin doctor during his long tenure on Downing Street.
The former colleague, along with Henderson, is among the former directors of Bell Pottinger who were chased by company managers.
BDO, the accounting firm that manages the administration, is looking for hundreds of thousands of pounds in salary payments prior to Henderson.
It is also reported that he is taking legal action against Lord Bell for an alleged breach of contract because of derogatory comments he made about the company during a live television interview.
Henderson said earlier that he was not involved in Bell Pottinger’s work for Oakbay, the Guptas’ company, and in July 2017 – just before the agency’s collapse – he apologized for the “inappropriate and offensive” work.
He declined to comment on Wednesday.