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Sunday Express theatre critic Mark Shenton 'fired over nude gay website pictures'

Journalist highlights irony of publisher Richard Desmond who owns a soft porn channel

The veteran theatre critic of the Sunday Express claims he has been sacked because nude images of him were discovered on a gay website.

Mark Shenton, chief theatre critic for the paper since 2002, wrote of his abrupt dismissal by Express executives in his daily blog for The Stage, the theatre industry magazine.

Mr Shenton, 51, who said his his sexuality has long been public, believes a "malicious third party" tipped off the Sunday Express about the pictures, which he says were taken in San Francisco by a friend he lost touch with some 22 years ago.

"I’d never seen or heard of the site myself so it was news to me," Mr Shenton wrote, and continued that he never imagined the photographs would end up in the public domain.

He stressed that the naked pictures of him were only available if someone paid to subscribe to the website.

Despite this he claims the head of Human Resources and the editor of the Sunday Express, Martin Townsend, thought the images were "embarrassing" and could bring the company into disrepute.

"Sorry to disagree with his world view, but I’m not embarrassed at all. In the week that Tom Daley came out, it is good to be able to be honest about who you are and even what you look like without your clothes on – though I will agree that Mr Daley looks rather better in a state of undress than I do."

Mr Shenton said there was an irony that the newspaper's proprietor, Richard Desmond, whose business interests once involved pornographic magazines such as Asian Babes and Penthouse, and still include adult television channels, should be affronted by the pictures.

"It could be said that the only difference is that these are straight magazines and channels whereas mine was defined as a gay one," he wrote.

Mr Shenton's work for the Sunday Express started with a review of the opening of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium in May 2002. 

Northern & Shell, the publishing company run by Mr Desmond, are reported to dispute Mr Shenton's version of events.