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South London newspaper defends 'silly' Twitter spat with right-wing For Britain leader and supporters

A south London newspaper which got into an “silly” Twitter spat with a right-wing political group and its supporters this week has defended its actions, saying it “will stand up for our reporters”.

The official Twitter account for News Shopper, a Newsquest title which covers south east London and north Kent, branded For Britain founder Anne Marie Waters a “hate monger” this week.

Waters (pictured) came seventh in the Lewisham East by-election yesterday, receiving 1.2 per cent of the vote.

Before the poll, News Shopper reported on local opposition to Waters’s candidacy after which she claimed on Twitter that she had not been contacted by the newspaper for comment. Her tweet has since been deleted.

News Shopper’s local democracy reporter Bridie Witton responded by posting screenshots of messages she had sent to For Britain ahead of publication, disproving Waters’s claims.

Andrew Parkes, group managing editor for the Newsquest title, told Press Gazette: “It’s a bit silly really because contact was made with her and it all came about because she denied that was the case.”

A series of tweets on the official News Shopper account followed, which were described by some as unprofessional, cringeworthy and biased. None of these tweets were written by Witton, Press Gazette has been told.

One of the tweets, posted on Wednesday, said: “Hooray, the hate monger and serial political failure standing for For Britain in Lewisham East has blocked us.

“A badge of honour that comes after she fibbed about us more times than she’ll probably get voted for tomorrow. Hope she isn’t a bad loser then too.”

The paper’s official account also tweeted: “Unlike the lie she told about us last week (which she’s since deleted), we hope this woman’s telling the truth about no threat of violence from her supporters later.”

Waters – who has 75,000 Twitter followers – later shared this tweet herself, adding: “This is the local press in Lewisham. See what we’re up against?”

She has also retweeted a For Britain supporter who said of Witton: “A BBC ‘journalist’ telling the truth… nah, only kidding.”

The newspaper claimed on Twitter it was “simply challenging her [Waters’s] lies about us”.

The dispute descended into name calling on both sides with the News Shopper describing Waters as a “bully and bigot” and calling her supporters “stupid” and “moronic”.

The paper said “we’ve dealt with dumber in the past” and responded individually to many of Waters’s supporters.

Parkes, who was not directly involved himself, defended the tweets.

He told Press Gazette: “We try and engage with readers as much as we possibly can. It’s all about engagement now.

“Twitter is not always the easiest platform to engage on because you get different reactions from different people on there and sometimes it’s not always easy to see the benefit of it, but we do try and engage where we can.”

Asked about the professionalism of some of the tweets, Parkes said: “We’re apolitical – we don’t get involved in politics of any persuasion.

“That’s the case, as far as I’m aware, with all the regional press papers. We don’t get involved in left, right or centre but I think it’s been a bit different with this one. ‘Hate monger’ was based on her anti-Islam feeling.”

News Shopper is continuing to get “floods of tweets and streams of abuse”, according to Parkes, but he added: “We can handle that”.

“Unfortunately you do get this from time to time – not always from people of a political persuasion but people do get aggrieved with certain things,” he said.

“You’ve got to be a bit thick skinned at times. We will stand up for our reporters. If senior members of staff are attacked we are a fair target, we understand that.

“But a reporter within the newsroom, we will defend that, particularly if it’s easy for us to prove.”

Press Gazette has contacted For Britain for comment.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons/ Kuolem a

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