Sunday Mirror editor in chief Lloyd Embley has apologised for the use of photos of women without their permission in a ‘sexting’ sting which prompted the resignaton of a Conservative minister.
A freelance reporter worked on the story and sold it to the Sunday Mirror. It is has been reported that the story was turned down by The Sun.
The reporter used a picture of Swedish model Malin Sahlen to set up a fake Twitter account called “Sophie Wittams – Twentysomething Tory PR girl”.
The reported attempted to strike up conversations with a number of Tory MPs and ended up conversing with Minister for Civil Society Brooks Newmark, a married father of five – and exchanging images which included one of the MP exposing himself.
A picture of another woman’s “sunbathing selfie” was also used in the sting without her permission.
The Sunday Mirror did not publish pictures of the women. But the fake Twitter profile picture of Sahlen has been published by the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post has also published the ‘Sunbathing selfie’.
Embley said: “The Sunday Mirror stands by its story relating to Brooks Newmark.
"Subterfuge was used in this investigation – and we have been very clear about that from the start.
"We strongly believe there was a clear public interest because of Mr Newmark's roles as Minister for Civil Society and co-founder of Women2Win, an organisation aimed at attracting more Conservative women to parliament.
"The investigation was carried out before the Sunday Mirror's involvement. We thought that pictures used by the investigation were posed by models but we now know that some real pictures were used.
"At no point has the Sunday Mirror published any of these images but we would like to apologise to the women involved for their use in the investigation.
"We have already spoken to one of them who would like to tell us her side of the story. This will be appearing in this week's Sunday Mirror."
Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, who was also targeted by the sting, has said he is making a complaint to the new press watchdog, IPSO, and Scotland Yard over alleged entrapment.
Speaking to Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, Sahlen said she had not given permission for the photograph she posted online to be used.
"I am shocked and it is unpleasant for someone to use the picture without permission," she said.
The woman, whose "sunbathing selfie" was used as part of the sting, also said she had not given permission.
Charlene Tyler, 26, from Boston, Lincolnshire, told the Daily Telegraph: "I think grown adults can do whatever they like as long as both of them are over the age of consent…I don't think it's something to resign over."
She added: "The fact that a newspaper was stealing my photograph is quite wrong. The newspaper's taken it too far."
Pritchard questioned why the newspaper had targeted him as a single man.
"Test for Ipso and Met Police. I will write to both today about Sunday Mirror story. Was the criminal law and Ipso Code of Conduct broken?" he wrote on Twitter.
Conservative MP John Whittingdale (Maldon), who chairs the parliamentary committee that examines press regulation, said the case raised serious questions about whether or not the journalist's method was a legitimate use of subterfuge.
He said on first glance he was not convinced it was justified and welcomed the investigation by IPSO.
He told BBC Radio 4's The World At One programme: "There are strict rules about this … and on the first sight I'm not convinced that actually this was justified.
"I'm glad it has been referred to Ipso. That will provide the chance for the newspaper to provide justification for the use of these tactics but they will need to have to demonstrate it wasn't a fishing exercise which it looks very much as if it was.
"They will need to demonstrate there was public interest involved. I'm not convinced that was the case either.
"We shall be watching very carefully as this is a test of Ipso."
An Ipso spokesman confirmed it had received the referral from Mr Pritchard.
Asked whether the newspaper's treatment of Newmark was justified in the public interest, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid told BBC Radio 4's PM: "It's a very sad outcome for Brooks. He's a friend of mine. I feel very sorry for him. I think he has done the right thing by resigning.
"But I think that it would be wholly irresponsible for me, as a minister responsible for media policy overall, to comment on something that might end up in front of the courts.
"There's been some rumours today that some of the people involved may be taking some legal action.
"It would be wholly wrong for me to give an opinion on this. The reason we have independent regulators and completely independent courts is that politicians don't get involved in decisions of this type."
Asked if he trusted IPSO to do a good job on the public's behalf in the case, Javid said: "It's independent, it's been created by the press, and let's see how they handle this. I think a lot of people will be watching.
"It's not my job to pass judgment on an independent regulator. The principles under which this new regulator was set up were quite clear that it should be independent of any kind of political influence."