Sunday Mirror editor in chief Lloyd Embley has said there was a “nailed on public interest” to its story yesterday revealing that a married Tory minister had exchanged lewd online messages with a journalist posing as a PR girl.
He also denied on Twitter that the story was a “Mirror sting”. The story was found by a freelance journalist who took it to the Sunday Mirror.
- May 28, 2020
- April 14, 2020
- March 18, 2020
Posing on Twitter as a “twenty something Tory PR girl” called Sophie, the journalist was investigating inappropriate use of social media by MPs.
Married Civil Society Minister Brooks Newmark, 56, has resigned following the story.
Another MP, Mark Pritchard, has complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. A number of Conservative MPs were contacted by the freelance journalist via Twitter.
The freelance reporter behind the story is not named in the piece. Staff reporters Matthew Drake and Vincent Moss are bylined.
According to the Sunday Mirror, the freelance had heard from “sources” that MPs were using social media networks to meet women.
“Sophie” was followed by minister for Civil Society Brooks Newmark on Twitter on 6 July who then started privately direct messaging her, the Sunday Mirror reports.
They then began exchanging telephone text messages and further messages on the site Whatsapp.
Pritchard, MP for the Wrekin in Shropshire, said on Twitter he would be referring the story to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which recently replaced the Press Complaints Commission.
He told his 3,200 Twitter followers: "Test case for IPSO Will be making formal complaint over attempted entrapment by Mirror."
Speaking to the BBC, he said: "It is in the public interest that their actions are fully investigated. This is the first real test as to whether the new body, IPSO, has any teeth."
Alison Phillips, Mirror weekend editor, told The Guardian: "This investigation was brought to the Sunday Mirror by a freelance reporter. The investigation, which had a clear public interest, was carried out following information from a reliable source."
Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code, which IPSO enforces, protects privacy and states: “Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.”
Clause 10 states: “Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.”
It will be up to the complaints committee of IPSO to decide whether or not both breaches were justifiable because of the public interest in exposing the MP’s actions.
Justifying the story in a leader column, the Sunday Mirror said: “when a minister, paid by taxpayers, sends explicit photos to a complete stranger (who turns out to be not a young woman Tory party worker but a man working undercover for a newspaper) then he has chosen to make his privates a public matter.
"If Brooks Newmark was dumb enough to text his post-watershed selfie, how can we trust his judgment in his working life?
"And how open is he to blackmail?
"And once he has lied to his wife, what stops him from lying to us, the voters he has not met?"
The Sunday Mirror will have to prove to IPSO that the investigation was not a "fishing expedition" and that the use of subterfuge was justfied by evidence.
In May 2011, the Press Complaints Commission said that The Daily Telegraph was wrong to secretly tape Vince Cable MP whilst reporters pretended to be constituents attending a surgery.
At the time it made clear that such fishing expeditions were not acceptable.
Although the story was brought the Sunday Mirror by a freelance, it will be seen as fully responsible for the journalist's actions because it used the story.
It is understood that the journalist contacted a number of Tory MPs with the fake Twitter account.