Press Association advises newspapers to remove 'real life' story after 'victim' is revealed as employee of PR firm Fuel

The Press Association has apologised to, and refunded, a number of national newspapers after it was revealed that the subject of one of its 'real life' features was in fact an employee of a PR firm representing the product it endorsed.

Esme de Silva: fake name used by Fuel PR's Leandra Cardozo
Esme de Silva: fake name used by Fuel PR's Leandra Cardozo

On 4 August, a PA feature on Esme de Silva, who was said to suffer from a condition that led her to produce excess sweat, was published online by the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Metro, Huffington Post and a range of other publications, accompanied by a number of pictures of de Silva.

The Daily Mirror story said that de Silva overcame the problem, which had caused her to take six months off work, when "a friend taught her about Odaban, an antiperspirant applied overnight to help combat excessive sweating". It went on to say: "Since using it, Esme says she has found a new lease of life."

The Mirror’s story, alongside several others, has now been taken down from its website after Media Week's sister title PRWeek discovered that de Silva was in fact Leandra Cardozo, a senior account executive at London agency Fuel PR. None of the articles had revealed that de Silva was a pseudonym, nor mentioned that her employer Fuel was appointed last summer to work for Odaban.

Gillian Waddell, managing director at Fuel, said that all the information given by the agency to PA was correct, except de Silva’s true identity.

A spokeswoman for PA told PRWeek that its publisher customers that used the story had been advised to take it down, and that they had been reimbursed with credit for any words and images used.

PA's editor-in-chief Pete Clifton said: "We took the story in good faith, and we would never have provided it had we known we were given inaccurate information. We have contacted our customers who used the story to let them know and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.

"We endeavour to have a robust relationship with PR agencies and ensure all appropriate checks are made with stories. However, there is often an element of trust involved."

Waddell added: "We provided a press release about an embarrassing personal condition and in line with the case study's request, we kept her identity private as we would do in all cases with all case studies, requesting discretion and privacy when discussing a highly personal, complex and deeply private health issue."

She also said she had yet to be contacted by the PA about the issue, although the PA said it had made several attempts to speak to the agency.

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