By John Donovan
On 21 March we published an article under the headline: “Aborted Sunday Times article claiming this website cost Shell $22 billion”.
We speculated on whether Shell had intervened to kill the story.
The following is the content of a Shell internal email released to us on Friday 13 July 2007 under the UK Data Protection Act.
Sent: 02 February 2007: 16.27
Subject: Donovan – Sunday Times
This is a heads up. I understand from the Group media office that the Sunday Times has picked up the Sakhalin/drilling leaked e-mail story from Donovan’s website.
They are responding with agree Qs and As that have been used previously with the Guardian, but are first trying to kill the story by pointing out that it is old news – slim chance that this will work. They will not comment on Donovan or the website of course.
If I get more detail from them I will forward it.
The Sunday Times journalist was Steven Swinford. He read the article over to me at 11am on 3rd February. It was to be printed that afternoon for publication the next morning. It described our involvement in the Sakhalin-2 project as “The Ultimate Revenge” and said that we had cost Shell $22 billion. It contained a quote from Oleg Mitvol saying that he had been surprised that Shell did not put up a fight about the project being taken over by Gazprom but had meekly surrendered. The story on which Swinford was very keen was indeed “killed”.
We were also advised by Terry Macalister of The Guardian that he intended to write an article about us and our website. I spoke to him for nearly an hour. I note that mention is also made of The Guardian. That story wasÂ also abandoned. Â
Our speculation in the article below, published in March about the Sunday Times aborted story,Â appears well founded.
Aborted Sunday Times article claiming this website cost Shell $22 billion
21 March 2007
By John Donovan
On 30 January 2007, I received the following email from a staff journalist from The Sunday Times. I have deleted his name and phone number.
I saw the piece in Prospect and would love to do a piece with you and your father for The Sunday Times news section. Could you drop me an email with your contact details of give me a call on 0207?
The Sunday Times
I subsequently had a long interview over the telephone with the relevant gentleman, a staff journalist at The Sunday Times responsible for many important stories. Having read the Prospect article (link below) he was very enthusiastic about writing a similar piece. He discussed various points with me by telephone and email on a number of occasions whilst in the process of preparing the story.
I discussed our background as a *promotional games company, our previous relationship with Shell and why we operate gripe sites focused on Shell.
He expressed an interest in the undercover activity which Shell had admitted using against us when I last sued Shell for breach of confidence. At his request, I faxed over 30 pages of relevant information. He was conversant with a Sunday Times article in 2001 which exposed Shell’s use of the shadowy private intelligence agency, Hakluyt, on covert missions against Shell’s perceived enemies, such as Greenpeace, The Body Shop and the Ogoni. According to a recent article, Shell remains a regular Hakluyt client: The New Republic: How corporations are like cold war superpowers. Spy v. Spy
The journalists main interest was in our role in Shell’s humiliation over the Sakhalin2 project. He thought that it was remarkable that a $2 a week website had pulled the rug out from under Shell on the multibillion dollar project, the biggest of its kind in the world. He had been in contact with the office of Oleg Mitvol to arrange an interview. He also spoke to at least one other important source.
On the Thursday, a photographer arrived from The Sunday Times and spent almost an hour taking about 50 photographs of my father and me.
At 11am on the Saturday morning, 3 February, I received a phone call from the journalist. He read out the entire article to check on accuracy, particularly in respect of quotes attributed to me. Our involvement in the Sakhalin2 affair was described as the “ultimate revenge” costing Shell £11 billion UK pounds ($22 billion USD). This was based on a Shell admission (see FT article below) announced at the beginning of February, that the change of ownership of Sakhalin2 had resulted in a loss of 400,000 boe from its reserves (calculated at $56 dollars per barrel). According to the Investors Chronicle, the loss of reserves will in fact be much higher than had been admitted by Shell.
The Sunday Times journalist read out quotes from Oleg Mitvol who had apparently expressed surprise at the speed of Shell’s surrender – the Russians had been expecting a spirited fight, not a pushover.
He went on to say that the paper would be printed that afternoon. So it seemed certain the article would be published.
However, to our great disappointment there was no article in the Sunday Times the following day.
On the Tuesday, I received an email from the journalist saying it had been pushed out by the bird flu outbreak in Suffolk, but he promised to lobby for its inclusion on Sunday, 4 February. Naturally we speculated whether the influence of Shell had played some part in the cancelling of the story. We had reason to wonder what had happened because another article on the same subject, but by a different journalist, scheduled to appear in a prestigious global magazine, was also scrapped at the last minute. In that case we were informed on a confidential basis that publication had been aborted because someone at the top of the magazine has a connection with Shell.
We thought no more of it until last weekend when a major advertising feature was published in The Sunday Times focused on the “partnership” between Ferrari and Shell (see link below). Naturally we are now suspicious that the pending advertising feature was perhaps the real reason for the last minute scrapping of a negative news story about Shell which contained an important revelation about Shell’s Sakhalin surrender.
Times Online: A prancing horse and a yellow shell make Formula One’s perfect blend
*Don Marketing Promotional Games: http://www.shellnews.net/Media/sales-promotion-magazine-don-marketing-%20advert-%20june-1991.html
Some of our games for Shell: http://www.shellnews.net/2007/shell-don-marketing-game-pieces.html