Newspapers accused of failure to run story of Whittingdale’s relationship with sex-worker

Mr Whittingdale said he ended the relationship when he discovered the woman was trying to sell the story to the press

Oliver Wright
Political Editor
Wednesday 13 April 2016 00:08 BST
Comments
Newsnight reported four newspapers investigated the claims but concluded it was not a public interest story
Newsnight reported four newspapers investigated the claims but concluded it was not a public interest story (Reuters)

Four newspaper groups, including The Independent, have been accused of failing to print a damaging story about the minister responsible for the regulation of the press.

The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, has confirmed that he had been in a six-month relationship with a sex worker that ended in 2013.

Mr Whittingdale, who is divorced, said he had been unaware of the woman's occupation and had broken off the relationship when he discovered the story was being offered to the newspapers.

However campaigners for tighter press regulation suggested the newspapers had investigated the claims, were aware that they were true but had held off publishing them for fear of alienating a powerful politician who was then chair of the House of Commons Media Select Committee.

Labour shadow cabinet minister Chris Bryant, who was previously shadow culture secretary, told the BBC: "It seems the press were quite deliberately holding a sword of Damocles over John Whittingdale.

"He has a perfect right to a private life but as soon as he knew this he should have withdrawn from all regulation of the press."

The relationship occurred before Mr Whittingdale became a Cabinet minister following the 2015 general election.

He said the relationship had not affected any of the decisions he had made in office.

"Between August 2013 and February 2014, I had a relationship with someone who I first met through Match.com. She was a similar age and lived close to me," he said.

"At no time did she give me any indication of her real occupation and I only discovered this when I was made aware that someone was trying to sell a story about me to tabloid newspapers. As soon as I discovered, I ended the relationship.

"This is an old story which was a bit embarrassing at the time. The events occurred long before I took up my present position and it has never had any influence on the decisions I have made as Culture Secretary."

It is understood that three newspapers – The People, The Mail on Sunday and The Sun – investigated the allegations against Mr Whittingdale but decided not to publish them. The Independent then investigated why those newspapers had failed to run the story but decided itself not to publish a story.

Amol Rajan, who was editor of the print edition of The Independent and is currently on paternity leave said:

"As I said in my email to one of the sources who was demanding we publish this tale - an email I was fully aware would later be made public - I rejected this story on editorial grounds."

Campaigners for tighter press regulation accused the papers of hypocrisy pointing out that as chairman of the Culture Committee, Mr Whittingdale had opposed statutory regulation.

Brian Cathcart of the Hacked Off campaign group said that since becoming Culture Secretary with responsibility for the media, he had taken a number of decisions which had been welcomed by the press.

"The public cannot have faith in his judgment, in his independence in making decisions about the media," he told Newsnight.

"It is not a story about John Whittingdale's private life. It is a story about why the press didn't cover this.

"To suggest in the very week we have newspapers baying for the right to cover a story about a celebrity's private life which a judge has told them they have no right to cover, they would be too scrupulous, too high-minded to report a story about a Cabinet minister which any judge in the country would tell them they have a right to cover is just absurd."

However the media commentator and former newspaper editor Roy Greenslade said that the papers would have been wary about covering such a story in the aftermath of the Leveson report on press standards.

"They would all be very careful about whether or not they had a public interest justification," he told the programme.

"They would have all taken separate legal advice, they would have all looked at their code of practice. I think it is a bit much to castigate the newspapers for doing the right thing for once."

Time line of the relationship

August 2013

Mr Whittingdale, then the chairman of the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee, begins a relationship with a women he meets on the dating website Match.com

Late 2013

The relationship continues and Mr Whittingdale takes the woman to two public engagements in his capacity as chairman of the committee. They were the MTV Europe Music Awards in Amsterdam, which they attended with hotel and travel expenses paid by the organiser, and the Sports Aid ball in London.

February 2014

Mr Whittingdale says he ended the relationship when he discovered the woman worked as a dominatrix who sold her services. “At no time did she give me any indication of her real occupation and I only discovered this when I was made aware that someone was trying to sell a story about me to tabloid newspapers. As soon as I discovered, I ended the relationship,” he said.

May 2015

David Cameron appoints Mr Whittingdale to the Cabinet as Culture Secretary. Mr Whittingdale does not tell the Prime Minister about the relationship or the fact that newspapers had been aware of it.

April 2016

Ten days ago Mr Whittingdale tells the Prime Minister about the affair after he becomes aware that the story is about to break on an internet news site.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in