Benetton to apologise to US families over Death Row campaign

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The Independent US

Benetton is to apologise to the families of American murder victims distressed by an advertising campaign that caused the downfall of the clothing empire's colourful creative director, Oliviero Toscani.

It will also pay $50,000 compensation to a fund for victims of crime in Missouri, in settlement of a legal action begun by the state attorney-general after Benetton featured four of its Death Row inmates in the high-profile publicity drive.

But the Italian clothing company has refused to accept that the main thrust of the campaign was wrong and showed only limited remorse yesterday.

"Benetton regret any renewed pain to victims' families but does not intend to go back on the campaign which it created, financed and fully supported," a spokeswoman said. "The aim was to contribute to the debate about the death penalty."

Twenty-six condemned prisoners from across the United States were interviewed for a 96-page magazine supplement published last year and a photographic feature, entitled "We on Death Row", on Benetton's website.

There were fierce objections in Missouri, where families said memories of their murdered loved ones were being abused for commercial gain, and state officials alleged that Benetton had made false representations to gain access to four of its prisoners.

More widespread objections to the campaign, the latest in a series designed to cause controversy, led to Mr Toscani's departure from Benetton after 18 years in which he had made it a worldwide talking point.

Jay Nixon, the Missouri Attorney General, filed a lawsuit 15 months ago against the company and those responsible for the project, including Mr Toscani, alleging that it glorified convicted murderers.

He said those working on the campaign misrepresented the purpose of the interviews to gain access to four murderers, Joseph Amrine, Jerome Mallett, Steven Parkus and Christopher Simmons.

Preparations to go to court were underway when the two sides reached agreement on the settlement.

Mr Nixon said: "This is an appropriate resolution to a situation that caused renewed emotional pain for those who lost their loved ones to these murderers."

But the company said the settlement did not mean it accepted it was guilty of misrepresentation. It was made "with the sole aim of putting an end to a legal action which could only have led to escalating legal costs", a spokeswoman said.

Benetton became accustomed to controversy over a number of years during which photographs of a dying Aids patient, the electric chair and mating horses featured in advertisements. But whereas it could be argued that earlier campaigns had simply raised the profile of the firm, the Death Row project cost the company dearly when the American chain store Sears severed its $100m (£70m) contract for its clothing.

Softer, more fun-loving images have become the new face of Benetton.