Broadcasting watchdog OFCOM has found self-styled ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas guilty of unfair treatment of furniture retailer ScS in her last series, Mary Portas, Secret Shopper.
OFCOM has upheld part of a complaint by the sofa retailer following the broadcast of the controversial programme in January. It found that the use of undercover footage to suggest the company encouraged insurance fraud was “not fair or justified”.
In the programme, Portas alleged that ScS encouraged its customers to lie on insurance claim forms, which is a criminal act. OFCOM found “There was no reason for her to have reached that conclusion.”
Portas also accused ScS of not having “the balls” to appear on the programme, giving the impression she had no option but to film undercover on the programme because it had refused to co-operate. However, OFCOM also considered this unfair because it found that ScS had been given no opportunity to participate.
The watchdog also said that ScS was not given sufficient time to respond to the allegations against it. Despite the filming being ten weeks before the broadcast date, the company was only given 24 hours to respond. However, it said no unfairness resulted to ScS from this as its response to the allegations was featured in the broadcast.
Claims by ScS and by store manager Neil Heffernan who featured in the programme that their privacy were infringed by the secret filming were rejected by OFCOM.
In a statement Channel 4 said “The Secret Shopper series exposed poor customer service practices across a wide range of industries. We welcome Ofcom’s view that secret filming at SCS was justified and in the public interest but accept the ruling with regards to two specific points in this particular episode.”
The programme was criticised by retailers for its technique of filming undercover in furniture and fashion stores to reveal alleged poor service. Since its broadcast, Portas has been appointed to advise the government on the future of the high street.