The Sun has defended its front page story about the tragic past of England cricketer Ben Stokes’ family after the Ashes hero hit out at the paper online.
The paper revealed the sportsman’s half-brother and sister were shot dead by his mother’s ex-partner in New Zealand, three years before he was born.
The Sun has said the story was told with the full co-operation of a family member after Stokes called it “immoral and heartless” this morning.
The online version of the article dubs it “Stokes’ secret tragedy” and notes that he has never spoken publicly about what happened.
The Mirror has now published a story about Stokes’ “furious” comments about the Sun but has declined to comment on why it deleted the articles.
Stokes said the Sun had been “contemptuous to the feelings and circumstances of my family” in bringing the story to light.
But a spokesperson for the newspaper said the incident was a matter of public record and was extensively covered in New Zealand at the time.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates the Sun, has so far received one complaint under Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in relation to the story.
IPSO was unable to confirm whether the complainant was Stokes or a member of his family, citing confidentiality rules.
In a statement published on Twitter this morning, Stokes called the story the “lowest form of journalism, focused only on chasing sales with absolutely no regard for the devastation caused to lives as a consequence”.
He claimed a Sun reporter had gone to his parents’ home in New Zealand on Saturday ahead of today’s front page story (pictured below).
The Sun said in its response that Stokes had been contacted before publication and that he did not ask the paper to hold the story.
“Today the Sun has seen fit to publish extremely painful, sensitive and personal details concerning events in the private lives of my family, going back more than 31 years,” Stokes said.
“It is hard to find words that adequately describe such low and despicable behaviour, disguised as journalism.
“I cannot conceive of anything more immoral, heartless or contemptuous to the feelings and circumstances of my family.”
The cricketer added: “To use my name as an excuse to shatter the privacy and private lives of – in particular – my parents is utterly disgusting.
“I am aware that my public profile brings with it consequences for me that I accept entirely. But I will not allow my public profile to be used as an excuse to invade the rights of my parents, my wife, my children or other family members.
“They are entitled to a private life of their own. The decision to publish these details has grave and lifelong consequences for my mum in particular.”
In response a Sun spokesperson said: “The Sun has the utmost sympathy for Ben Stokes and his mother but it is only right to point out the story was told with the co-operation of a family member who supplied details, provided photographs and posed for pictures.
“The tragedy is also a matter of public record and was the subject of extensive front page publicity in New Zealand at the time.
“The Sun has huge admiration for Ben Stokes and we were delighted to celebrate his sporting heroics this summer. He was contacted prior to publication and at no stage did he or his representatives ask us not to publish the story.”
Stokes has received support from Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson who wrote: “It is decisions like these by editors unlike me that heap shame upon our profession.
“It kills the trust we work so hard to build. It gives every journalist a bad name and legitimises those who seek to discredit the Fourth Estate. I am sorry you have been treated this way, Ben.”
Picture: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers