By Ray Fleming

BP cannot be short of people who know a bit about public relations. But some of the statements coming from the company's chief executive Tony Hayward about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico give the impression that if he is getting advice he may not be following it. Last week after President Obama had insisted that BP would have to pay the bill for all the damage that the oil slick is causing Mr Hayward said: “This is America -- come on. We're going to have lots of illegitimate claims. We all know that.” Yesterday, in an interview with the British press, he apparently tried to play down the importance of the blow-out, saying: “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean.

The amount of oil and dispersant we're putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” That may be strictly true but for those affected directly by the oil it is irrelevant.

BP's safety record in the United States is not good. There was an explosion at its Texas refinery in 2005 which killed 15 people and a pipeline leak in Alaska a year later. There are unconfirmed reports that tests on the oil rig indicating some technical problems shortly before the explosion were ignored. BP must know the huge political stakes involved in this accident and should accordingly think twice about statements they make that might be misunderstood.