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News & views

Email disasters

[28 Feb 2011] Like most good things, emails can go horribly wrong. As the synopsis of Great Email Disasters (by Chas Newkey-Burden, published by John Blake, 2007) warns: ‘With an ill-considered click of the mouse, you can humiliate yourself in front of millions, lose your job or even end up in court.’

The book ‘brings together over 100 of the funniest, scariest and weirdest stories of inbox ignominy’, including these:

  • Headmaster Patrick Hazlewood and his school's bursar Barry Worth jointly received an emailed complaint from local pensioner Mary Kelly about some misbehaviour by their pupils. ‘Tell her to get stuffed,’ typed Hazlewood, thinking his response was only going to his colleague. Alas, he hit ‘Reply All’ so his message also went to Mrs Kelly.
  • When BBC Five Live acquired the services of football commentators Andy Gray and Jonathon Pearce for the 2002 World Cup, executive editor of BBC Sports News Graeme Reid-Davies jokingly emailed a colleague saying: ‘I think they're both crap.’ He accidentally copied his message to 500 members of the BBC sports staff – including Gray and Pearce. ‘I can’t believe I was such an arse,’ he later reflected.
  • Devon schoolgirl Claire McDonald found herself receiving emails containing top secret information from the Pentagon after being accidentally added to a round robin list by a navy commander. One of them was offering advice to the UK on how to prevent secrets from being leaked. As the World Trade Centre fell on 11 September 2001, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers’ special adviser Jo Moore emailed colleagues saying it was a good day to bury bad news. She had to apologise after the email became public.

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