The Brooks Newmark sting
Subterfuge the only way, says Guido
Wednesday 1 October
Guido Fawkes has said that it will continue to use subterfuge and clandestine methods "to go after wrong 'uns", after confirming that one of its reporters was behind the sting that led to Brooks Newmark's resignation from the Government.
"This blog will never bow to censors," it says, adding that there was no other way to prove an MP was exploiting his position for carnal gain.
The blog confirms that, as many surmised, WikiGuido - Alex Wickham - was behind the story and denied that he had been on a fishing expedition. Rather, he was evidence gathering as part of an agreed plan.
The fictitious Tory activist Sophie Wittams had followed a hundred Conservative MPs on Twitter, including the Prime Minister and a number of women. This was, the blog says, part of a narrowly targeted effort.
As founder of Women2 Win, Newmark - who had a reputation as being a "bit of a creep" - had access to young ambitious women. "As with Lord Rennard that combination has obvious temptations."
Guido suggests that the new press regulator Ipso is being hasty in investigating the story - the chairman Sir Alan Moses has said it is of urgent public concern - and concludes:
If IPSO finds against the Daily Mirror it won’t prove it has teeth, it will prove as we told the Leveson Inquiry, that “media standards” are really a form of censorship that will protect the powerful from having their wrongdoings uncovered.
Sun and MoS rejected Newmark story
Tuesday 30 September The Sun and Mail on Sunday rejected the freelance story about Brooks Newmark before the Sunday Mirror bought it. Both were reportedly concerned about the subterfuge involved in securing the story, which ended the Braintree MP's ministerial career.
The disclosure of the double rejection came as Lloyd Embley, the Mirror group's editor in chief apologised to two women whose photographs were used in the internet sting without their consent. The photographs were not published in the paper.
Mark Pritchard, another of several Tory MPs targeted by the freelancer - Alex Wickham of the Guido Fawkes blog - said yesterday that he would complain to Ipso, setting the new regulator its first test, and to the police about the subterfuge.
Newmark resigned over the disclosure that he had sent an explicit photograph of himself to a freelance reporter posing as a pretty young party activist. The reporter had set up a fake Twitter account under the name of Sophie Wittams and started to follow a number of MPs. Newmark and "Wittams" exchanged direct messages and moved on to a Whatsapp flirtation. None of the other MPs sought to develop the Twitter relationship with the fake follower.
The Mirror said the sting was part of an investigation into allegations of lechery at Westminster and suggestions that MPs were using social media to meet women.
Alison Phillips, the Mirror's weekend editor, said that as co-founder of the Women2Win campaign to get more women MPs, Newmark's exchanges with someone he believed to be a young intern interested in politics were wholly inappropriate. Embley said yesterday that there was a "nailed on" public interest justification for the story.
The editors’ code of practice says that subterfuge can be justified "only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means”. In 2010 the old PCC upheld a complaint about a Telegraph "fishing expedition" against Vince Cable, saying it was designed solely to entrap MPs with no plausible public interest justification.
Editor's blog Sting was malicious and misconceived
What other people are saying
What he did WAS quite bad.
Not because it was sexting, which these days is not uncommon.
Nor that his sexual behaviour might not meet with public approval, which these days isn’t necessary.
No, what he did was foolishly accept the flirtation of a woman, give her his mobile number, and then demand intimate photographs of her.
Not once, not twice, but repeatedly. He asked, requested, persuaded, induced and inveigled.
He was a man of wealth, power and influence, taking sexual gratification from what he thought was a young woman with none of those things.
That’s a bad thing.
- Fleet Street Fox, Mirror Online
Make no mistake, as the ‘Newmark scandal’ scandal develops, the objective on the part of all those outraged by a rather quaint Tory-totty sting, is to inhibit the press, to make editors think twice about telling the public something, to encourage the press to rein back on anything that feels a bit controversial.
As IPSO chief Sir Alan Moses put it this week at the Conservative Party conference: ‘One of the things about the code is that newspapers think beforehand… a rush to judgement [on whether to publish or not] can lead to injustice.’
To make newspapers think beforehand – these are predictably worrying words. While the Sunday Mirror‘s exposé might not be the most enlightening of tales, we need to defend their right to publish it – and, more importantly, our right to read it. It’s not a newspaper’s role to ‘think beforehand’ about the public interest for one good reason: we, the public, are perfectly capable of thinking for ourselves.
- Tim Black, Free Speech Now! Spiked Online
If Newmark was the target, not all the MPs, then there ought to be documentation – emails, notes or memos – which confirm that he was the target when the investigation was set up.
Furthermore, it ought to be possible to show that the way the fake account behaved toward innocent MPs followed for ‘cover’ was different to the way it interacted with Newmark.
Showing this preparation and behaviour would verify the account of events given by Guido, and it can be done without revelation of confidential sources who might have put them onto the story in the first place.
- David Banks, Media Law blog
Of course it is wrong that a married man should flirt, and more than flirt, with another woman: but it is not criminal. It is also, as a general rule, wrong to trick people – even married men – into exposing their genitals to complete strangers, and if there are occasions when it can be justified they are probably rather infrequent. And unlike adultery, tricking someone into sexual activity is potentially criminal.
So the story raises a number of difficult questions, far more of which are about the behaviour of the Sunday Mirror than about that of Mr Newmark.
- Matthew Scott, Barrister Blogger
There is certainly a question here over how a journalist who suspects an MP of wrongdoing in this regard would go about revealing it — especially after the stringent criticism of media intrusion into people's private lives following the hacking scandal. Clearly getting someone to reveal their abuse of power willingly requires some degree of subterfuge.
Yet if the sting was "narrowly targeted" and if Wickham acted responsibly then any criticism of his methods should be easily countered by releasing images of the correspondence between the two in full, including screengrabs and transcripts of their messages to each other.
- Tomas Hirst, Business Insider
The Sunday Mirror story says that the trap was set as part of an "an undercover probe into claims by sources that MPs were using social media networks to meet women".
What is wrong with MPs, who are actually human beings, using social media networks to meet women? And most especially MPs such as Pritchard, who is unmarried?
- Editor's blog
There has not been any suggestion that Newmark was breaking the law in exchanging explicit pictures with "Sophie." So the justification rests on the fact that, as a man tasked with recruiting more female Conservative MPs, he was guilty of abusing his position (plus, of course, gross hypocrisy).
Whether that passes a public interest test is a moot point. The paper's editors clearly believed it did....let's concede the point and then imagine the following scenario...
The freelance reporter who set up the sting had prima facie evidence that a junior minister who played a central role in the Tory party's bid to boost the number of female MPs was prepared to indulge in "sexting." He realised that the only way he could prove it was to indulge in subterfuge. He baited the trap with a fetching picture of a mythical Tory PR woman, "Sophie Wittams", and Newmark fell for it.
Fair enough, just possibly. But, and this is one hell of a big but, Newmark was not the only MP to be offered the bait. At least seven other Tory MPs were offered similar lures.
It is stretching credulity to believe that there was prima facie evidence in each of their cases too
- Roy Greenslade,
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