DAVID BURNSIDE, the man behind British Airways’ “dirty tricks” campaign against Virgin, has been hired by the Countryside Alliance to launch a hard-hitting PR campaign.
His appointment has alarmed anti-blood sports campaigners who are now bracing themselves for a gloves-off fight. The lobbying is expected to intensify next month with the Government-commissioned Burns Inquiry into hunting with dogs due to report.
Mr Burnside was accused of cold-calling Virgin customers and persuading them to switch to BA, spreading harmful stories about the state of tycoon Richard Branson’s airline and using private investigators.
He resigned as BA’s director of public affairs in 1993 following a court case which led to British Airways paying £610,000 in damages to Virgin. Mr Burnside, 48, who hails from Ballymoney, Co Antrim, now runs his own companies working in public relations, publishing and political lobbying.
The Independent on Sunday has learnt Mr Burnside was paid £17,000 in fees last year by the Countryside Alliance. The Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals – the umbrella group for the RSPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the League Against Cruel Sports – is now bracing itself for a tough fight as the Burns Inquiry prepares to report.
A spokesperson for the CPHA said: “For them to take on someone like that who is known for really tough campaigns just goes to show they are not prepared to argue this on the facts and that they might be prepared to use so-called `dirty tricks’.
“It looks like a last ditch attempt to save hunting and it shows it’s very likely to be a gloves-off campaign.”
But the Countryside Alliance insisted the gloves would be kept on, stressing that apart from advising the group on “tactics” in the hunting debate, Mr Burnside’s primary role had been to arrange the alliance’s conferences over the past two years. Nigel Henson, Countryside Alliance director of communications, said: “One of the hallmarks of the alliance’s campaigning is that we have always campaigned very fairly and openly.”