14 MARCH 1998, Page 30

Facts on the line

Sir: I have often thought that journalists can be even worse than their victims at taking criticism. The publication of Edward Heath- coat Amory's letter (7 March) has rein- forced that impression. The journalist never contacted my office. He contacted our press office and asked for a corporate package on the company and information. He never asked to speak to me. He never requested an interview with me. My office is open from 7 in the morning to 8 at night and one call during those hours would have sufficed.

I have never walked out of any interview ever, including Panorama! Because I don't run Virgin Rail on a day-to-day basis, the BBC agreed that I could have our chief executive there to check the facts. He told me that Panorama's facts were incorrect. Since I was late for a press conference it was agreed that we'd finish the interview later on. As it was, Panorama wrote to me saying there was no need. Since the impres- sion left with the viewer was different, this will be subject to an internal investigation at the BBC. I'd already clarified this point with the editor.

As for the train statistics that Amory quotes, they are wrong. In the year since we took over, delays attributable to Railtrack's infrastructure and other line failures have fallen by 22 per cent, and delays attributable to our train failures have fallen by 3 per cent. Historically, line failures to train failures have run roughly 75 per cent to 25 per cent.

Finally — on behalf of everyone at Virgin — I thank Mr Heathcoat Amory for wish- ing our future well in such a generous spirit! Richard Branson

Virgin Group of Companies, 120 Campden Hill Road, London W8