Whittingdale cover-up? Mail on Sunday publishes five-page exposé of Culture Secretary's love life - Press Gazette

Whittingdale cover-up? Mail on Sunday publishes five-page exposé of Culture Secretary's love life

The Mail on Sunday published five pages of reports probing John Whittingdale's private life yesterday after previously being accused of colluding in a cover-up.

Pressure group Hacked Off and others have claimed that The Sun, Mail on Sunday and Sunday People declined to publish reports that Whittingdale had a relationship with a woman who worked as a dominatrix. It was alleged that they were influenced by the fact the Culture Secretary has declined to commence legal costs penalties against publishers contained in the Crime and Courts Act.

The story of the single Cabinet Minister's past relationship was instead covered by the website Byline followed by Private Eye and then BBC Newsnight.

Now the Mail on Sunday has revealed details of two further previous relationships.

Former topless model Stephanie Hudson claimed the Culture Secretary had breached security protocols while they were in a relationship.

Whittingdale allegedly showed her confidential papers at his constituency home and also photographed Cabinet Ministers at a private meeting in Chequers before texting the image to her, she claimed in the Mail on Sunday.

The paper has also written of his "intimate friendship" with a "mysterious beauty from Belarussia" in 2012.

It noted also that Whittingdale "has links with Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian gas oligarch and ally of Vladimir Putin".

It reported: "Mr Firtash owns a mansion in Knightsbridge and is wanted by America’s FBI on bribery and corruption charges.

"Mr Whittingdale has declared thousands of pounds worth of trips paid for by the Firtash-backed British Ukraine Society (BUS) – to which the MP belongs – in the Commons Register."

Justifying its latest coverage of Whittingdale, the MoS said: "The events we report today go far beyond an individual's right to a private life. The sanctity and confidentiality of Cabinet papers is overriding and beyond doubt, underlined by the ritual of the locked Red Box, carried by Ministers of the Crown, which must never be left unsupervised.

"It is John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, who has surely failed to live up to this standard. He flourished Cabinet papers in the presence of a former porn actress, with whom he was in a casual relationship begun on the internet. He had no conceivable way of knowing what might result from this.

"He also took a photograph of a private Cabinet lunch at Chequers, one of the most secure and closely guarded locations in the country, especially since the growth of the terror threat.

"He then sent this to his girlfriend on open airwaves, vulnerable to snooping by foreign intelligence agencies.

"Any press photographer trying to obtain such a picture would have been in serious trouble. Yet at the time Mr Whittingdale snapped this picture with his phone, his department was charged with finding new ways of ensuring that the press did not overstep the mark on this and other matters.

"The public interest in publishing this story is clear. It is wholly distinct from Mr Whittingdale's relationship with a woman who was later discovered to be a professional dominatrix – which The Mail on Sunday and several other newspapers therefore chose not to report.

"The conduct of this Minister was at best reckless, at worst a breach of his highest obligations. It is our duty to tell our readers of this.

"It is for the Prime Minister – and ultimately the public – to judge the suitability for office of a Minister who adopts such an attitude towards the secrecy of the documents with which he is entrusted, and the responsibilities which he bears."

Times comment writer Hugo Rifkind said on Twitter: “Congrats to Hacked Off for finally convincing the British press to ruin the life of John Whittingdale. What would they like us to do now?"

And Mail on Sunday writer Tim Walker also quipped about the matter on Twitter:

Sources told Press Association that Ms Hudson "never had access" to government documents and said the Tory MP was entitled to a private life.

A source close to John Whittingdale told the Mail on Sunday said: "John is a single man. He is entitled to a private life. This is just tittle tattle. Stephanie Hudson never had access to government papers."



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette