A PR company's hoax story about Prince Harry's leaked best man speech was picked up by more than 50 news outlets including the Daily Express and OK! Magazine.
Leeds-based PR outfit Ptarmigan Bell Pottinger (PTB) – part of the Bell Pottinger Group – launched the campaign on behalf of its client Article10, a company that specialises in 'creative presentation services',
The hoax began when Article10 'leaked' the speech and an accompanying PowerPoint presentation via a fictitious employee's email to a non-existent student, who posted a link to the site hosting the speech – www.HarryLeaks.com - via Twitter.
The story was only picked up a few days later when Article 10 issued an apology for the leak via PTB on 19 April. It went on to appear on websites including The Scottish Daily Express, Yahoo! News, USA today and the Calgary Sun.
The company's apology even contained a link to the website hosting the leaked speech, which begins: 'Grandad advised me the perfect best man speech is just like one of Chelsy's mini skirts; short enough to keep him interested but long enough to cover the essentials.'
It continued: 'There's been much speculation about what went on at William's Stag Do. Many have asked if he ended up cuffed to Charlie Sheen and tied naked around a lamp post with only a traffic cone to hide his crown jewelsâ€¦ let's just say Big Willy finally got his comeuppance for years of calling me a 'little ginger twat.'"
The story that appeared in all the media outlets that picked it up were almost identically worded.
It said: 'Marketing bosses have apologised to British royal Prince Harry after a draft copy of his speech for his brother Prince William's upcoming wedding leaked online.
'Royal watchers were sent into a spin this week when a file purporting to contain a copy of the prince's best man speech and an associated presentation were posted on a website.
'It has since emerged the information had been leaked by a student on work placement at marketing company Article 10 Presentations, and bosses have now spoken out to apologise to the prince."
Press Gazette understands that the first organisation to pick the story up was London-based celebrity news agency WENN, which then syndicated it and it sold it on to other news organisations.
A spokesman for WENN told Press Gazette: 'Last week, WENN was among a number of news outlets to receive an email purporting to provide links to a leaked copy of Prince Harry's best man speech.
'When WENN, like every other news outlet, ignored this information as a probable spoof, a press release was sent out the following day from Article10 Presentations, via a reputable media company, containing a statement that Article10 management 'has apologised personally to Prince Harry' for 'a leak of confidential and sensitive information relating to a project undertaken for Prince Harry'.
'WENN reported, in good faith, the information contained in that press release."