Railtrack spin-doctor quits amid furore

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The Independent Online

The head of Railtrack's public relations is to leave his job before the end of the year, it was announced yesterday, as the firm remained embroiled in a row over insensitive comments made by the company's commercial director.

The head of Railtrack's public relations is to leave his job before the end of the year, it was announced yesterday, as the firm remained embroiled in a row over insensitive comments made by the company's commercial director.

The departure of Philip Dewhurst, the director of the company's corporate affairs department and chief strategist for its public image, is being seen by some in the rail industry as the price for the company's disastrous reputation.

The furore surrounding the description by Richard Middleton, the commercial director, of public reaction to the disaster as "hysteria" did little to help repair the damage.

Railtrack denied the issues were linked yesterday and said Mr Dewhurst had planned to leave the firm before the accident happened.

Mr Dewhurst, currently president of the Institute of Public Relations, has been with Railtrack for four years and has been central to shaping the public's perception of the company, viewed with suspicion by a public largely hostile to privatisation of the rail network. Railtrack has always struggled to shake off bad press largely centred on its role in the late running of trains, where it has been repeatedly threatened with fines by the rail regulator. But the Paddington disaster has sharpened public hostility in light of fears about safety.

Last night Mr Dewhurst said the current bad publicity had not contributed to his resignation. He said: "I had decided some months ago that it was time to move on, but agreed to stay until the end of the year to help deal with the Paddington aftermath."

Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett, said: "We're sorry to lose Philip, who has done an outstanding job in a very challenging environment."

Meanwhile, Thames Trains has called in the spin-doctor who co-ordinated "damage limitation" after the Piper Alpha oil-rig disaster.

Go Ahead Group, which owns Thames Trains, has taken on First and 42nd, which specialises in risk-management advice and publicity.

The consultancy's risk-management director, Mike Seymour, has been drafted in to lead the counter-offensive following the crash.

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