The Sun’s political editor has denied he was trying to create “faux outrage” in a story claiming a Labour MP joined a heavy metal band which used “Nazi iconography”, which is the subject of a High Court libel battle.
Tom Newton Dunn (pictured) told the court he believed it was a “serious misjudgement” for anyone to associate themselves with the imagery, which he described as looking like an “S” used by Nazi paramilitary group the SS.
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon is suing the Sun and Dunn over an online story published in April 2017 headlined: “Reich and Roll: Labour’s justice boss ridiculed after he joins a heavy metal band that delights in Nazi symbols.”
Burgon argues the article, which was written by Newton Dunn, was “highly defamatory, false and unfair” and said he was “very distressed” by the publication and its effect on his reputation.
The Sun story claimed an image tweeted by the band Dream Troll, with whom Burgon has made a guest vocal appearance, twice used the offending “S” font in a message which read: “We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
However, Burgon claims this was a spoof of Black Sabbath’s 1975 album of the same name. When the band posted the image on Twitter it was also accompanied with the hashtag #blacksabbath.
— Dream Troll (@dreamtrollband) March 31, 2017
Giving evidence on the second day of the trial today, Newton Dunn said he believed it was both a “serious misjudgement” and “unwise” for Burgon to be associated with a band using what he described as “Nazi iconography”.
Asked if it was misleading or a distortion of the facts in violation of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice not to include the Black Sabbath hashtag in the Sun’s story, Newton Dunn said: “I disagree completely.
“What they have done here is they have posted a tweet with an image. The hashtag is in that tweet but not in the image. Clearly you post a hashtag with an image on a tweet to connect the two.
“It was wholly unobvious to me what the connection was, if there was any real connection, and anyway it was completely immaterial in my view.”
Asked by Burgon’s barrister Adam Speker whether he should have contacted the band to ask about the image’s meaning, Newton Dunn said: “The story wasn’t about them. I didn’t consider their comment would add anything.
“In my view, and I argue in pretty much the majority of Britain’s view, is that image quite clearly demonstrates Nazi iconography.
He added: “They had committed what I thought was a bad thing to have done – an irresponsible, tasteless thing to have done on Twitter.
“Personally I think it extraordinary that anyone can see these two S’s so close together like that, furthermore under the Germanic script, and not make any assumption at all in their mind.”
Speker alleged that Newton Dunn had constructed a “dog whistle article to suggest Mr Burgon was a Nazi who associated with Nazi sympathisers” and whip up “faux outrage” to damage him as an MP.
Newton Dunn responded that he “pointedly didn’t write” that Burgon was a Nazi but maintained that he believes “the tweet and the image within it is Nazi iconography”.
He said he found Burgon’s “association with a band that thought tweeting what they tweeted was a good idea a bit odd, but beyond that I didn’t think he was a Nazi”.
Newton Dunn said he initially filed his story at about 4pm on the day of publication and later added a quote from Burgon’s political adviser, which was published online, and then a reference to the Black Sabbath association, which was not.
The Black Sabbath reference only made it into the print article, which is not a subject of this legal action.
Newton Dunn said the Sun’s filing system was “complicated” and that he did not know why the Black Sabbath reference was never added online. He said he “did not hold a lot of truck” in this explanation from Burgon’s team, but said he wanted to include it to be “diligent and thorough”.
Asked if it would have been fair to Burgon to later update the online article with the full Black Sabbath context, Newton Dunn said: “If we were to have done that it may have somehow given substance to your client’s grievance which we still wholly reject.”
He added that “at no point” did Burgon or his representatives ask for the Black Sabbath album reference to be included either on the day or the day after publication.
Speker suggested the Sun refused to update the online article “to send the message: ‘don’t mess with the Sun’”.
Newton Dunn said he was unable to answer as “once lawyers start writing letters to each other it’s very quickly taken out of the hands of journalists”.
But he said that if the newspaper thinks someone makes a good case about an inaccuracy or genuinely believes they have been treated unfairly, amendments are made “all the time”.
Adam Wolanski, for the defendants, asked Burgon if he wanted the Sun shut down and whether his motivation for bringing this action was “to teach [Sun owner] Rupert Murdoch a lesson”.
Burgon denied he wanted the Sun shut down and said: “I’m not a litigious person. This is the first and only time I’ve ever brought a case against the Sun or another newspaper.
“The reason I’ve brought it is I’m genuinely distressed and hurt by the link with [Nazi iconography]… It is the most serious and grave of accusations… The Sun will have written nasty stories about me before… but there is a reason I brought this particular case.”
Burgon has claimed he was “very distressed” and feared for his safety after receiving a threat in person and by email following the article’s publication.
An anonymous email sent two weeks after publication said: “Kill yourself you ugly inbred anti-English anti-British piece of shit… don’t come near my door out canvassing you fucking traitor.”
Wolanski asked if it was “much more likely” that the “extremely unpleasant individual who emailed” would have been prompted by an entirely separate Mail Online story published two days later.
That story, headlined “Jeremy Corbyn’s justice chief, 36, poses with his ‘lawbreaker’ lover, 26, who believes religious extremists should have the right to break the law”, received a comment calling Burgon “anti-British”.
Burgon said: “I don’t accept that, no.”