The BBC was today hoaxed into broadcasting a claim that victims of India's Bhopal disaster are to be paid £6.2 billion in compensation.
In an interview a Dow Chemical "spokesman" appeared to admit full responsibility for the world's worst industrial accident, 20 years ago to the day. The hoaxer said the cash would go to the 120,000 people who may need medical care for the rest of their lives and help to "fully and swiftly remediate the Bhopal site".
A leak of poison gas from the Union Carbide pesticide plant, which Dow took over in 2001, killed some 15,000 people and injured about 550,000 more. Campaigners have alleged that only part of £224 million Dow paid to the Indian government - a settlement upheld in 1991 by the Indian supreme court - ever reached those directly affected by the disaster.
Dow today quickly denied the statement to the BBC and announced the corporation had fallen victim to "an elaborate hoax". The BBC itself reported that some victims' relatives in India were "in tears" at news they may finally get compensation.
But Jude Finisteria, the man behind the stunt, admitted he was a member of The Yes Men, a campaign group which has staged similar "identity correction" hoaxes in the past. He said that while the group regretted raising false hopes, the stunt had been worthwhile because it focused attention on the scandal.
"It's terrible to compound insult to injury," he said. "But we do think the chance of possibly adding a little pressure to try to make something happen is inestimable."