Bell Pottinger Communications

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Twenty-pound-notes.jpg This article is part of the Lobbying Portal, a sunlight project from Spinwatch.

Bell Pottinger Communications, also known as Bell Pottinger Private, is the largest PR and lobbying company in the UK. It was a subsidiary of Chime Communications until a management buy-out led by Tim Bell in July 2012.

The Chairman of Bell Pottinger is Lord Tim Bell, a friend of former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Bell ran the Tory Party's publicity campaigns for the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections. He was the Deputy Chairman of Lowe Howard-Spink and Bell alongside Frank Lowe before founding Chime Communications in 1989. Bell received his peerage from Tony Blair in 1998.


Revolving door

Other politicians and aides who work or have worked at Bell Pottinger include ex-Labour Party staffer Cathy McGlynn (an adviser to Jack Cunningham when he was Agriculture Secretary); Amanda Clow (from Tony Blair's office before the 1997 election), Amanda Francis (a former adviser to Mo Mowlam), Jav Chavda (a former researcher for the 'Rapid Rebuttal Unit') and Nick Williams (a researcher for David Clark).

Pro-nuclear work

Nuclear spin.png This article is part of the Nuclear Spin project of SpinWatch.

Bell Pottinger have a history of nuclear clients:

In the late 1990s and up until 2002 its subsidiary Bell Pottinger Public Affairs was the main PR company providing strategic corporate communications advice for the state-run BNFL. In 2002, Bell Pottinger lost the account, although continued to provide financial PR services and ad hoc project services, through sister company Bell Pottinger Communications. [1] [2]

In 2004-05 Bell Pottinger received £24,000 from Nirex to "Provide commmunications advice related to the Nirex pension scheme." [3]

In November / December 2005, Private Eye revealed that Bell Pottinger was receiving £8,000 a month to give strategic advice to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The Eye asked: " Why is the Bell Pottinger PR firm passing on potted biographies of MPs focusing on their supposed attitude to nuclear power to the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA)? The NDA's job, after all, is to clean up the mess left by the old atomic generation, not to promote new nuclear power stations."

The Eye noted that: "The files certainly give the impression that Bell Pottinger thinks the NDA is part of the cosy nuclear club rather than a body charged with sorting out some of the worst problems created by the industry. In its bidding document Bell Pottinger emphasised that its chairman Kevin Murray 'worked on the BNFL account during a tumultuous four-year period'. It also said Bell Pottinger director Tim Walker was a 'former special adviser to Jack Cunningham' when he was a very pro-nuclear MP and spent 'more than a decade closely involved in the politics of the nuclear industry'. [4]

Using the Freedom of Information Act, NuclearSpin obtained a copy of Bell Pottinger's pitch to the NDA. It underlined the extent of the companies involvement with the nuclear industry. It states that Bell Pottinger's consultants "have worked in a variety of capacities with the nuclear industry. These include:

  • Providing strategic advice and support for the Chairman and Chief Executive of BNFL including crisis management
  • Advising BNFL on corporate and financial communications
  • Developing day-to-day public affairs programmes for BNFL and the BNIF
  • Working with Parliamentarians with interests in the nuclear industry
  • Monitoring and tracking nuclear issues ranging from Parliamentary committees to public enquiries
  • Directly managing the in-house communications for the UKAEA and AEA Technology through privatisation
  • Briefing and rehearsing industry executives appearing before Select Committees." [5]

The NDA's briefing paper for potential PR consultants boasted that the "NDA is not unique in being an organisation committed to open and transparent engagement with stakeholders, but it may well be the first organisation that has such objectives built in to its statutory requirements". Nevertheless, Bell Pottinger's successful pitch includes:

  • "Advising on the handling of particular announcements identifying the issues and bear traps in advance, advising on messaging, media strategy and tactics, questions and answers"
  • "Advising on an appropriate contact programme ie who are the journalists that should be courted, what are their issues, how best to handle them"
  • "Providing off the record information". [5]

General Augusto Pinochet

In 1998 the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in London at the request of Spanish prosecutes requesting his extradition on murder charges. [6] At the time Pinochet, who died in 2006, was a Chilean senator who had claimed diplomatic immunity for the murder of Spanish citizens between 1973-1990. [7]

As Richard Wilson points out in his blog Bell Pottinger Communications relationship with brutal regimes has a longer history than recent contracts with Belarus and Sri Lanka "Bell Pottinger were paid apologists for the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, lobbying hard to help the General evade justice after he was arrested in the UK on torture charges in 1998." [8]

In 1999 New Internationalist reported that defenders of Pinochet in the Chilean Reconciliation Movement, a UK based organisation, were paying Bell Pottinger Communications to mount a defence of the former dictator in a $310,000 contract. Bell Pottinger Communications had worked on the 1989 presidential campaign of Hernan Buchi, Pinochet's former finance minister and candidate in Chile’s first presidential elections since 1970.

"Bell Pottinger has sent 14 postcards, in the name of the Chilean Reconciliation Movement, to 5,000 British ‘opinion makers’ (including the heads of the top 2,000 corporations, the members of the Houses of Commons and Lords, and the major news media)"
Tim Bell’s public-relations expertise was also employed for a televised meeting between Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher in the house where the ex-dictator is confined. The meeting was arranged by Robin Harris, a senior advisor to Thatcher. Harris has also produced and sent to over 5,000 UK ‘opinion formers’ (the same 5,000 as the postcards, perhaps?) a paper entitled ‘A Tale of Two Chileans: Pinochet and Allende’. Harris’s paper rehearses the same accusation as the postcards – President Allende had planned a ‘self-coup’ with dictatorial aims. Over half of the paper’s footnotes cite a document produced by the dictatorship with CIA assistance shortly after the military coup. Harris also promises shortly an appendix detailing ‘Plan Z,’ the fictitious plot under which Allende and his associates were to eliminate an extensive list of enemies including prominent members of the armed forces." [9]

Sri Lanka

In 2010 the BBC reported that a Sri Lankan government source had hired Bell Pottinger Group to try to enhance Sri Lanka's post-war image for a fee of £3 million a year. The work has involved lobbying UK, UN and EU officials on a range of issues, including assisting Sri Lanka's attempts to prevent the UN secretary general appointing an advisory panel on alleged war crimes committed during the country's civil war.

Bell Pottinger also helped promote the UK visit of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof GL Peiris who gave the keynote speech at London's International Institute of Strategic Studies in October 2010. [10]

It is unclear how long or whether the firm continues works for the Sri Lankan government. When asked this question during a rare interview in December 2013 chairman Tim Bell 'affected casualness' and replied 'airily' that, 'We stopped in … 2009? Or 2010? I might have got the dates wrong.' The interviewer wrote that Bell then:

switches seamlessly to a sterner, man-of-the-world tone: "It's a fashionable thing to criticise the way the Sri Lankan government has behaved. David Cameron had one meeting in the north of the country with 200 people who have lost relatives. You have to remember there was a 30-year civil war. The Tamil Tigers weren't exactly gentle, nice people. And for Britain to ponce around the world talking about human rights after what we did in Afghanistan … It's what Winston Churchill called 'our usual export': hypocrisy."[11]

Relationship with the Bahraini Government

Bell Pottinger has held a number of contracts with the Bahrain Government. In 2009 The Economic Development Board (EDB) of Bahrain appointed Bell Pottinger to handle its global FDI (foreign direct investment) with a contract believed to be worth a seven-figure sum in pounds annually. [12] Bell Pottinger also contracted Qorvis to carry out public relations work in the US for Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2010. [13]

Bell Pottinger's work in Bahrain came under pressure in February 2011 for holding these contracts even after seven protesters were killed in a police crackdown on the anti-regime campaign. [14] As a result Bell Pottinger suspended some of its contracts, including with the EDB.[15]

However, this disengagement did not last long as in May 2011, Bell Pottinger was awarded a contract worth US$ 199,000 by Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority for an undefined period of time. [16]. In July 2011, the government's holding company Mumtalakat renewed a contract with Bell Pottinger, worth US$ 853,000 for a period of one year. [17] In January 2012, Bahrain's Economic Development Board awarded Bell Pottinger with a renewed contract for over US$ 10.5 million for a period of two years. [18]. In May 2012 Bell Pottinger's contract with the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution was renewed for a year for about $ 367,000. [19]. The information about these contracts have been taken from the website of the government's Tender Board, and there may be other contracts that are not yet listed.

According to a posting on the Bahraini government’s Tender Board website in October 2012, Bell Pottinger has made bids for the tendered public relations contract. [20] Exact details of the services required by the Bahraini government have not been made public, other than that it involves “PR services” for the Economic Development Board (EDB).

Refusal to join the Association of Professional Political Consultants

Update: Bell Pottinger finally joined the PRCA, the rival trade assocation to the APPC, in March 2010,[21] and the APPC in May 2013. However it reportedly still does not publish a full list - in an interview in December 2013 chairman Tim Bell cited commercial confidentiality or official secrecy when asked if Bell still worked with the Sri Lankan government.

In February 2008, it emerged that Bell Pottinger was one of three agencies refusing to join the APPC, following a committee inquiry chaired by Labour MP Tony Wright. Despite attempting to "make amends" by drawing up its own code of conduct, the controversy surrounding Bell Pottinger's steadfast refusal to register resulted in chairman Peter Bingle giving evidence to MPs at the Public Administration Select Committee.[22]

Senior management 2013

Middle East 2013

Former staff

  • Peter Bingle, was previously Chair, left the company in 2012 to set up as an independent consultant
  • Jonathan Oates, Director
  • Claire Cater, Group Director. Claire lead the Group’s public sector work which typically includes media, public affairs, advertising, marketing, medical education, stakeholder engagement, digital and publishing.


Bell Pottinger Corporate and Financial | Bell Pottinger Good Relations | Bell Pottinger International | Bell Pottinger North | Bell Pottinger Public Affairs | Bell Pottinger Public Sector Health | Bell Pottinger Sans Frontieres | Bell Pottinger Sport and Sponsorship | Bell Pottinger USA | QBO Bell Pottinger | Bell Pottinger Security | Bell Pottinger Special Projects | Bell Pottinger Middle East | Pelham Bell Pottinger - corporate and financial public relations | Pelham Bell Pottinger Asia | Harvard | Harvard GmBH | Corporate Citizenship Company | Resonate | Insight | MMK | BMT | Ptarmigan Bell Pottinger


Bell Pottinger Private does not publish a full list of its client-base, which has previously included a raft of controversial and eyebrow-raising names:

The government of Sri Lanka; FW de Klerk, when he ran against Nelson Mandela for president of South Africa; Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted Thai premier, whom protesters claim still controls the country; Asma al-Assad, the wife of the president of Syria; Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus; Rebekah Brooks after the phone-hacking scandal broke; the repressive governments of Bahrain and Egypt; the American occupying administration in Iraq; the polluting oil company Trafigura; the fracking company Cuadrilla; the athlete Oscar Pistorius after he was charged with murder; the Pinochet Foundation during its campaign against the former Chilean dictator's British detention; the much-criticised arms conglomerate BAE Systems – Bell or Bell Pottinger has represented all of them.

December 2010 to February 2011

Alstom Power | Anadarko | Ascertiva | Aspers | Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers | Astrazeneca | BAE Systems | BACTA | Bank of Ireland | Berkeley Homes | BT MPP | Canary Wharf | Capital One Partners | Carlyle Group | Citibank NA | Constellation | Courtauld Institute |Deloitte | Derwent London| Eclipse Hotels | Emirates | Equitable Members Action Group | Fluor | Food and Drink Federation | Frasers – Camberwell | Global Warming Policy Foundation | Government of Bahrain | GSG Holdings | Historic Royal Palaces | HomeSun | Imperial Tobacco | Inmarsat | Jacobs | Kellogg’s | Ladbrokes | Law Society | Mercedes-Benz | Motor Sports Association | National Grid Commercial | National Grid Property | Park Group | Permira | Places for People |Port of Dover | Port of London Authority | Press Complaints Commission | Provident Financial | Red Bull |Rio Tinto |Rolls Royce | Royalton Ltd | Stannah | St James | Sunderland City Council | TAG Farnborough Airport | Tottenham Hotspur FC | Treasury Holdings | University and College Union | Visteon | Voreda – Woodlands | Waitrose [25]

Bell Pottinger's past clients have included:

Nike | BSkyB | Natwest | BNFL | BP | AEA Technology | GlaxoSmithKline |Prudential | BAE Systems[26] | Rolls Royce |[27]MBDA | [28] | Libyan National Council - although no contract had yet been signed in June 2011, according to Lord Bell: "Bits and pieces are going on,’ ... ‘We are involved in it all, but no one has made any decision and contract. At the moment, the work we are doing for them is informal. Whether we will get in a situation with people in which it will come to something, I’m not sure."[29] | Mohammed El Senussi, the exiled ‘crown prince’ of Libya (since 1988)[29] | Economic Development Board of Bahrain - remit was exp­anded to support the government of Bahrain during uprisings earlier in 2011.[29]

Contact, References and Resources



External Resources


  1. H. Williams, 'BNFL Takes On Finsbury As Dewhurst Wraps Up Revamp', PR Week, 5 July, 2002.
  2. P. Simpson, 'WSW Picks Up BNFL Public Affairs Work', PR Week, 22 April, 2002
  3. David Wild, Freedom of Information Request, Letter to Jean McSorley, Senior Advisor to Greenpeace UK, 15 July 2005.
  4. Spinwatch website
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bell Pottinger Communications, in FOIA release from NDA to NuclearSpin, February 2006.
  6. BBC News, World: Europe Pinochet arrested in London, 17th October 1998, accessed 18th December 2011
  7. BBC News, World: Europe Pinochet arrested in London, 17th October 1998, accessed 18th December 2011
  8. Richard Wilson, Pinochet, Bell Pottinger, and “reconciliation” accessed 18th December 2011
  9. Alejandro Reuss, Peddling Miracles And Amnesia issue 314 - July 1999, accessed 18th December 2011
  10. Saroj Pathirana , Sri Lanka 'pays PR firm £3m to boost post-war image', BBC Sinhala Service, BBC News South Asia website, 22 October 2010, acc 15 November 2013
  11. Andy Beckett, Dodgy regime? Unruly protesters? Bell Pottinger can help, The Guardian, Monday 9 December 2013 19.01 GMT, acc 15 December 2013
  12. Alec Mattinson, Bahrain passes brief on to Bell Pottinger, PR Week, 14 January 2009, accessed 18 November 2013,
  13. Qorvis FARA Exhibit AB to Registration Statement for Government of Bahrain via Bell Pottinger (Aug 6, 2010), US Dept of Justice, accessed 18 November 2013
  14. Bell Pottinger's work for Bahrain Government under the spotlight, PRWeek, accessed 18 November 2013,
  15. Alec Mattinson, Bell Pottinger's Bahrain brief suspended amid country's crisis, PR Week, 7 April 2011, accessed 18 November 2013,
  16. [1], accessed 18 November 2013,
  17. [2], accessed 18 November 2013,
  18. [3], accessed 18 November 2013,
  19. Doc Name, accessed 18 November 2013,
  20. Tender, accessed 18 November 2013.
  21. PRCA, press release, March 2010
  22. Staff writers, "Lobbying inquiry zooms in on APPC non-members", PR Week UK, 21.02.08, accessed 10.09.10
  23. Sara Luker, Rebekah Brooks hires Bell Pottinger chairman David Wilson to handle media,, 18 July 2011, 8:55am
  24. by Mark Banham, Tim Wilkinson takes charge of Bell Pottinger Middle East, PRWeek, 12 December 2013
  25. PCRA, PRCA Public Affairs Register – December 2010 to February 2011 accessed 7th December 2011
  26. David Singleton, Bell Potinger sets sights on security industry, PRWeek, 14 December 2007, p. 1.
  27. Singleton, ibid.
  28. Singleton, ibid.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Matt Cartmell, Bell Pottinger Aids Anti-Gaddafi Libyan National Transitional Council, PRWeek, 08 June 2011, accessed 15 June 2011
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