Sunday

Clarence Mitchell: Master media manipulator

Tony Bennett and Helene Davies-Green outside the Oxford Union building


OXFORD UNION: Friday 6th March

On 6th March 2009, at the Oxford Union, one of the invited speakers is Clarence Mitchell. Who is this man, and what is his track record?

THE SAYINGS OF CLARENCE MITCHELL - A MASTER MEDIA MANIPULATOR

Carlos Anjos, head of the Portuguese police professional association, who had dealings with Clarence Mitchell, said of him: “He lies with as many teeth as he has in his mouth”.

Clarence Mitchell in his own words, on 29 September 2007 to Espresso: “I was the head of the government's Media Monitoring Unit. Forty people work there and their function is to control what comes out in the media."

CLARENCE MITCHELL’S CAREER

Clarence Mitchell’s media career began in the late 1980s as a BBC regional reporter in Leeds. He moved to London where for a while he covered stories about the Royals. A 2007 article on the BBC website by Laurie Margolis about Clarence Mitchell’s BBC career says: “Clarence was also a presenter on various BBC news programmes, and may have been looking to make that his main career. But the presenting world is a precarious and capricious one, and he never quite made it. Once, I was working throughout the night. Clarence was presenting hourly bulletins on BBC News 24. He did the 1am, and the 2am, but at 3am a slightly dishevelled looking producer appeared doing the news. It turned out Clarence closed his eyes, sleeping through the 3am bulletin. Clarence left the BBC suddenly, making a move into the Labour government as Director of its Media Monitoring Unit [Central Office of Information]. There, his job was to ‘correct’ bad media stories about the government and to put out the government line”. A ‘spinner’, as some would call it, or ‘a professional liar’ as others describe the role. In May 2007 he was suddenly seconded to the Foreign Office to work for the McCanns’ public relations team, alongside their own spokeswoman Justine McGuiness. In September 2007, in an unusual move, he was allowed to resign from the civil service to become the McCanns’ full-time spokesman, on £75,000 a year. He remains in that role, though he has been employed for the last few months by another PR agency, Freud International.

‘AN ANGEL OF DEATH’

Margolis also noted Clarence Mitchell’s strange association with controversial murder cases: “He was closely involved with the Fred and Rosemary West case, where a murderous couple had killed young girls and buried the bodies under their patio in Gloucester. He was one of the first reporters to arrive at Gowan Avenue, Fulham in south west London, when the immensely popular BBC TV presenter Jill Dando was shot dead in a murder many feel has never been satisfactorily explained”. Mitchell also covered in depth the arrest and conviction of mass-murderer Dennis Nilson. When Paula Yates’ partner Michael Hutchance died in mysterious circumstances in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Sydney, Australia, in 1999, Clarence Mitchell was despatched to cover the death; more recently, in a story he worked on right up to the day he left the BBC, Clarence led coverage of the murder of the Surrey schoolgirl Millie Dowler in 2002. The case has never been solved. Mitchell has also written books on the Fred & Rosemary West and Jill Dando cases. He also reported extensively on the murder by Ian Huntley of Soham girls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. On 9 January this year, the Independent ran a brief article titled: ‘Remember Clarence Mitchell?’ It said:

“Clarence Mitchell, formerly of the BBC and now spokesman for Madeleine McCann’s parents, has developed a nice little niche as a spin doctor of misery. First he took on Fiona MacKeown, mother of teenager Scarlet Kelling, who was murdered in Goa. Then he started representing the parents of murdered London teenager Jimmy Mizen. And today we’ve discovered that Mr Mitchell is also speaking for the wife of Jeremy Hoyland, the British jet skier who went missing off the coast of Bali last October. Mr Mitchell is not charging for his services. But his presence can hardly be reassuring - the PR equivalent of an angel of death”.

CLARENCE MITCHELL & THE MADELEINE McCANN CASE

Clarence Mitchell has achieved much in the Madeleine McCann case. He played the key role in arranging for the McCanns to meet the Pope on 28 May 2007, just 25 days after Madeleine McCann was reported missing. A man with connections at the highest level, Clarence Mitchell openly boasted in a TV interview that it was he who arranged, via Roman Catholic Archbishop Cormac Murphy O’Connor, for the McCanns to visit the Pope - in what was a highly publicised visit.

The Pope put pages of material about the McCanns and Madeleine on his website. But two days before the McCanns were made arguidos - ‘provisional suspects’ - in September 2007, the Pope wiped all references to Madeleine from his website. Margolis wrote in 2007: “I would imagine Clarence is content in his new role as the family's voice. He's centre stage on a huge story, intimately involved as ever, and on television and in the papers all the time. It was extraordinary how, last week, his intervention seemed to eliminate within hours any misgiving about the McCanns in the British media”.

Who has been paying Clarence Mitchell’s salary whilst he has been working for the McCanns?

This remains a mystery. We know that up to September 2007, the British government paid his salary. He left the government that month. Since then, the McCanns and Mitchell have said on the record that the ‘Helping to Find Madeleine Fund’ has not paid any part of his salary. They say that he was paid by ‘an anonymous backer’. But Clarence Mitchell won’t say who that backer is, nor why that backer is giving him so much support. [UPDATE: In an article in the Independent on Sunday, 1 March 2009, Mitchell has contradicted previous claims that his salary was being paid by an anonymous backer. He now says he gets a retainer of £28,000 a year from the Helping to Find Madeleine Fund, donations to which were given to ‘help find Madeleine’, not pay the salaries of PR professionals].

The full article can be read here: Copy of Clarence Mitchell leaflet for Oxford Union, 6 March
Clarence Mitchell: An Ongoing Profile