The resignation of MP Brooks Newmark over a “sexting” incident with an undercover reporter compounded a terrible weekend for the Conservative Party.
The former minister for civil society stepped down after learning that the Sunday Mirror newspaper was set to publish details of private messages, including explicit pictures of Newmark, sent to a freelance journalist posing as a female party activist.
Here is everything you need to know on the case:
The journalist set up a fake twitter account, @SophieWittams, described as a “Twentysomething Tory PR girl” (now deleted), to contact a number of Conservative MPs on the social network. As Buzzfeed reported the journalist used a picture taken from Swedish model Malin Sahlén’s Instagram account:
During private exchanges with Newmark the journalist sent him images, including a sunbathing selfie of mother-of-two Charlene Tyler taken from her Twitter account, without her permission. The Telegraph contacted Tyler who said “the fact that a newspaper was stealing my photograph is quite wrong. The newspaper’s taken it too far”:
The paper claims that the private message exchanges were initiated by Newmark and, significantly from a legal standpoint, that he solicited images from the journalist by offering his own explicit photos in trade, before he was specifically asked to send her anything:
Though clearly embarrassing for the MP, the details of the affair paint a questionable picture of the Mirror’s practices and whether the intrusion into Newmark’s private life can be justified as “in the public interest.”
The fact is that, as far as we are aware, Newmark was not sexting anyone until the Sunday Mirror’s man came along, and only did so after receiving flirtatious photos from the fake activist. The Mirror did not even name the freelance reporter who posed as “Sophie Wittams,” a “Twentysomething Tory PR girl,” to get the scoop. And even if the sexting did take place between two people it did so in private, between consenting adults.
In other words, the entire incident has been conjured from thin air by The Sunday Mirror under the pretext that this might have happened to a real woman (even though it didn’t). And now, another MP contacted by the fake activist has filed a complaint with the police and the press regulatory body.
Following the recent phone hacking scandal the UK press has become more regulated by the government as it relates to invasions of privacy. The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) set up in the scandal’s aftermath has issued an Editors’ Code of Practice. If a publication is found to have breached it IPSO has the legal power to require prominent corrections and critical adjudications or issue a fine of up to £1 million.
Below are the most relevant clauses:
Alternatively the case could be pursued through legal channels under existing privacy laws in the UK. Personal information gained through impersonation could leave the journalist in question open to damages claims under privacy and misuse of information laws.
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that: ‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.’ However, anyone bringing a case under Article 8 would have to demonstrate that there was no public interest in the information being made public and that the information is question was not ‘trivial’.
One of the MPs contacted by the fake account, Mark Pritchard, has already made a formal complaint to the regulator and the Metropolitan Police over “attempted entrapment by Mirror”:
And even journalists from the other side of the political spectrum, like The Guardian’s Owen Jones, have criticised the paper’s actions:
Alison Phillips, Mirror editor (weekends), has defended the publication of the article in the Guardian saying that “the investigation, which had a clear public interest, was carried out following information from a reliable source.” The logic appears to be that the story was justified because Newmark was a cofounder of Women2Win, a group that encouraged more female party activists.
It will now be a matter for IPSO and the Metropolitan Police to decide on whether the actions of the anonymous journalist in question violated press guidelines or criminal law. For his part, Newmark has acknowledged that whatever the findings he has been a “complete fool” but whether his foolishness warranted such a high level of media attention is open to question.
Business Insider contacted the journalists who reported the story but we have not yet heard back.
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