Former Bell Pottinger boss James Henderson vows to fight possible boardroom ban

Business

The former chief executive of Bell Pottinger – the PR firm which spectacularly collapsed amid a political scandal in South Africa – has vowed to fight a potential boardroom ban.

James Henderson, along former Bell Pottinger executive Victoria Geoghegan and Nick Lambert, will face a director disqualification hearing, court documents show.

The proceedings had to be brought by this month – the statutory three-year deadline since the start of the investigation by the government’s Insolvency Service. The IS can seek bans of up to 15 years under the Company Directors Disqualification Act.

Henderson resigned from Bell Pottinger – the agency founded by the late Lord Bell and Piers Pottinger in the Eighties – shortly before its collapse in 2017. The agency went bust after an exodus of clients following the emergence of details of the company’s work for the Guptas, one of South Africa’s richest families. The UK’s PR trade body said Bell Pottinger’s work had the potential to inflame “racial discord”.

Henderson today said he intends to “fight this matter in court in order to preserve my good name” and said he was “confidence” the court would find in his favour.

He said: “I simply would never have embarked upon, condoned or ignored any course of action that would have endangered the firm that I proudly led and loved, nor would I have done anything to stir division in South Africa or elsewhere. When legitimate concerns were raised with me about other accounts, I had no hesitation in resigning them irrespective of their value to the firm.

“It is important to say that I never had any involvement in the workings of the Oakbay account which caused the controversy, nor even any contact with the clients. It is also a fact that I was actively misled when I sought to get to the truth.”

Accountancy firm BDO is still seeking to recover money for creditors as part of Bell Pottinger’s administration. It is seeking hundreds of thousands of pounds from Henderson and former colleagues.

Lord Bell, known as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite spin doctor, died last year aged 77.

Bell had an acrimonious relationship with the company he founded, appearing on the BBC’s Newsnight to discuss the South Africa scandal in 2017.

Henderson founded PR agency Pelham and merged with Bell Pottinger in 2010, before helping Bell complete a management buyout in 2012. The pair grew the agency, landing blue chip corporate clients including British Gas owner Centrica and financial services group Friends Life.

Henderson now runs a start-up PR agency, J&H Communications, with a handful of clients, including Brexiteer hotelier Sir Rocco Forte, from offices in Bloomsbury.

Geoghegan and Lambert could not be reached for comment.

James Henderson’s statement in full:

“I intend to contest this application and fight this matter in court in order to preserve my good name safe in the knowledge that for the first time the full facts relating to the failure of Bell Pottinger will emerge.

“I simply would never have embarked upon, condoned or ignored any course of action that would have endangered the firm that I proudly led and loved, nor would I have done anything to stir division in South Africa or elsewhere. When legitimate concerns were raised with me about other accounts, I had no hesitation in resigning them irrespective of their value to the firm.

“It is important to say that I never had any involvement in the workings of the Oakbay account which caused the controversy, nor even any contact with the clients. It is also a fact that I was actively misled when I sought to get to the truth.

“Bell Pottinger did not fail because it was a mismanaged business. Instead it found itself at the centre of a political battle between President Zuma and his opponents, and a carefully orchestrated campaign to destroy the firm involving people who had an axe to grind. The case against me is weak and misconceived and I am confident that the court should ultimately find in my favour.”