A Sunday Life exposé revealing details of a Northern Ireland Assembly member’s sexual exploits has been accused of breaching privacy and harassment guidelines, with 200 complaints made to press regulator IPSO.
The weekly title’s exclusive report, published yesterday, showed censored nude images of Member of the Legislative Assembly Ross Hussey as it reported his use of a website to meet strangers for sex.
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The paper claims the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) politician, also a member of the Policing Board, left himself vulnerable to security breaches through his use of the site over a five-month period.
It also said that Hussey may have breached the code of conduct for board members.
But some readers have said the story, which ran on the front and four inside pages, had intruded into the single politician’s right to privacy.
In a tweet yesterday, Hussey said: “Can I thank all of you for your messages of support I really appreciate it – I am really surprised at the sincere messages I have received.”
The post has been liked more than 1,000 times and prompted an outpouring of support from readers and fellow party members.
UUP member Andy Allen MLA tweeted: “@RossHusseyMLA You have my full support – utterly disgraceful journalism.”
Steve Aiken OBE MLA, also a member of the UUP, said: “@RossHusseyMLA you have my complete support – the attack on you by so called ‘journalist’ is nothing short of disgraceful/entrapment.”
Complaints have been filed with the Independent Press Standards Organisation under privacy and harassment clauses, a spokesperson confirmed.
Sunday Life said the story was obtained after a journalist on the paper, part of the Belfast Telegraph, set up a fake account on the website and began exchanging messages with him.
It said his profile had a picture showing his face.
The reporter exchanged more than a dozen messages with Hussey over a two-month period with a number of his comments being “highly sexual” in nature, including sending nude pictures.
After being prompted to send return nude pictures, the reporter set up a meeting with Hussey, ostensibly for sex, at a hotel.
Said the report: “This newspaper had concerns that the person we had been communicating with might not be Mr Hussey, and that someone may have been using his image and details.
“But it was the MLA who arrived in the lobby bar as agreed.”
It said that during a 15-minute conversation the politician “talked about his sexual fantasies and how they conflicted with being a member of the Orange Order which insists its members uphold traditional Christian values” before the reporter made their excuses and left.
The resulting story revealed how Hussey had “been risking his personal security” due to the fact that many of the website’s members used fake identities.
“For all he knew he could have been meeting a terrorist or a criminal blackmailer,” it said in the article.
“He was risking his personal security and potentially the security of other members of the Policing Board.
“Mr Hussey, 57, is chairman of the Board’s audit and risk committee and like all board members he is subject to a strict code of conduct.
“As a member of the Policing Board, he is a target for dissident republicans and, like all members, he has been advised to be aware of his personal security at all times.
“But despite these serious safety concerns and strict code of conduct obligations, Mr Hussey travelled 70 miles from his Omagh home to the Ramada Plaza hotel at Shaws Bridge to meet a random internet ‘friend’.
“Policing Board rules state members must ‘not conduct themselves in such a manner as to bring the board into disrepute’.
“But by sending a total stranger – whose age he could not know – full-frontal naked photos of himself and then attempting to arrange a sex session in a hotel Mr Hussey may have breached this order.”
Hussey has admitted to the allegations made in the newspaper and released a statement.
The Ulster Unionist West Tyrone MLA said: “I made a terrible error of judgement in sending photos and sincerely regret that my actions have brought me to public attention for all the wrong reasons.”