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July 25, 2023updated 29 Feb 2024 11:16am

Sun editor responds to question over Huw Edwards reporting and Dan Wootton allegations

MPs wanted to know how The Sun verifies its stories.

By Charlotte Tobitt

MPs asked The Sun how it verifies its stories following its scoop about allegations against a BBC presenter, later revealed to be Huw Edwards.

They also asked The Sun’s editor-in-chief Victoria Newton about how the newspaper is investigating allegations that subsequently emerged about ex-employee Dan Wootton. He denies any criminal wrongdoing.

MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, chaired by Dame Caroline Dinenage, wrote to Newton on Monday saying the newspaper should answer questions to ensure the public has confidence in its editorial standards.

Newton has already responded, saying the Edwards story “was the subject of significant scrutiny pre-publication” and that the newspaper has corroborative “documentary evidence”, interviews with multiple primary witnesses and affidavits, and had sought comment from the BBC and the presenter.

Of Wootton, Newton revealed The Sun has appointed legal firm Kingsley Napley to investigate the allegations.

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What did The Sun report about Huw Edwards?

The Sun first revealed allegations relating to payments made by a then-unnamed BBC presenter for “sordid images” on Friday 7 July.

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After days of speculation and questions about the potential criminality of the allegations presented by the story (two police forces have since said there was no criminal wrongdoing to investigate), the presenter was revealed to be Huw Edwards by his wife, Vicky Flind, on Wednesday 12 July. Flind said she released the statement was because of the effect the story had on Edwards’ family and his mental wellbeing, leading to his hospitalisation.

Questions remain for The Sun, including reports the paper had a statement from the 20-year-old at the centre of the story denying Edwards had committed any wrongdoing before publication, but did not use it. The newspaper has maintained its reporting was in the public interest.

James Harding, a former editor of The Times which like The Sun is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, said last week that if Newton “were running BBC News, she would have to resign” because of a number of the editorial decisions made.

Allegations subsequently emerged on social media and in independent news outlet Byline Times about Wootton, former editor of The Sun’s Bizarre showbiz column and executive editor. Some of the allegations relate to his behaviour while at the newspaper and he is now crowdfunding with the apparent intention of suing Byline.

Sun editor describes Huw Edwards editorial process

MPs believed these two incidents presented enough questions that they were justified to ask The Sun’s editor-in-chief about its editorial processes and internal investigations.

Of the Edwards reporting, Dineage wrote: “Our role is not to challenge individual stories or editorial decisions, but we would be grateful if you could set out the processes by which The Sun verifies any story it chooses to report, especially those where issues of privacy may be at stake.”

She added: “Given the concerns that have been reported about inaccuracies, changing narratives and lack of engagement with some of the parties involved in the case of Mr Edwards, we would also be interested to understand what was done to verify this specific story and what, if any, reviews or discussions are ongoing about The Sun’s procedures and reporting in this case and any wider lessons to be learned.”

Newton responded: “The Sun is a responsible media organisation which has strict editorial and legal frameworks in place so as to ensure that articles are accurate and lawful.

“This story was the subject of significant scrutiny pre-publication. The Sun has documentary evidence and had conducted interviews with many of the primary witnesses. We sought comment prior to publication from the BBC and its presenter. In depth considerations were made around the privacy and public interest justifications for publishing the story. The matter is and remains deeply sensitive and the decision was made not to name any of those involved nor give any detail which may identify them.

“One of those involved is one of the most trusted and well-known television journalists, who has since been named by his family, and the other is a vulnerable young person with an addiction to crack cocaine. We had safeguarding responsibilities on behalf of both of these people and took great care with our reporting. At no point have we identified the gender of the young person, which the BBC has done on more than one occasion.

“In itself, maintaining this anonymity made the amount of evidence which could be published more challenging. We have since provided significant further evidence to the BBC to assist their investigation.”

This evidence includes a “significant number of texts, social media messages and pictures,” she said.

Newton continued: “The parents had previously sought a resolution to the situation by complaining to the BBC. No action had been taken in response to their complaint and they turned to The Sun. Tim Davie himself has acknowledged that it was ‘clearly a serious allegation’. It is now a matter for the BBC to rigorously investigate this complaint and the others which have also now emerged. The BBC must report back transparently on the findings of their investigation.

“The questions raised about our reporting have come in particular from the BBC itself as well as a small group of anti-press campaigners who have sought to misrepresent our reporting or use selective extracts. The vulnerability and drug addiction of the young person is also frequently omitted. We have sought to correct the reporting or commenting of opinion formers along the way.”

Newton added that the story received “significant pre-publication legal oversight, as any story of that nature would do” and noted that The Sun is regulated by IPSO and operates in “a legal space in libel, privacy and data protection that is tougher and more complex than it has ever been”.

After outlining the experience of The Sun’s legal team, Newton added: “Further comment would encroach into editorial decision making and legal privilege and extend beyond proper enquiry by parliament into a free press. We stand by our reporting which is subject to law and regulatory oversight.”

Sun taking Wootton allegations ‘seriously’

Of Wootton, Dineage said: “Since this story was reported, allegations have been made about a former employee of The Sun, Dan Wootton, who has been reported as being involved in payments for sexual material. We would be grateful if you could set out what investigations are taking place into this matter.

“I’m sure you will recognise how important it is for the public to have confidence in a newspaper’s editorial standards, not only on this particular case but across all its reporting.”

Newton said in response: “We take these allegations seriously but we are in no position to comment further and indeed we make no commitment to make any further comment depending on the outcome of our investigation.”

MPs’ questions for BBC over Huw Edwards investigation

Dineage also wrote to the BBC’s acting chairwoman, Dame Elan Closs Stephens, asking for an update on how the corporation is “taking appropriate actions to ensure that the ‘red flagging’ process works effectively” in relation to complaints made about staff, saying transparency would “reassure” the public.

She asked for confirmation that the results of both the fact-finding investigation into the allegations against Edwards, which could take months, and a review of the BBC’s non-editorial complaints procedures, which is expected to complete in the late autumn, will be made public.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We have received the letter and will respond to the committee in due course. The BBC is committed to carrying out all work connected to these matters with due diligence and due care – and we intend to complete this as swiftly as possible.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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