Receive our Behind the Headlines email and we’ll post a free copy of Byline Times
GB News presenter and MailOnline columnist Dan Wootton hid behind fake online identities to trick and bribe scores of men into revealing compromising sexual material, Byline Times can reveal in the first part of a three-year special investigation.
The 40-year-old broadcaster and self-styled voice against ‘woke’ culture – whose show Dan Wootton Tonight is the biggest ratings winner on the UK’s fourth-most watched news channel – targeted journalistic colleagues, friends and members of the public for at least 10 years.
Byline Times has extensive evidence to show that, between June 2008 and 2018, Wootton – who is gay – posed as a fictitious showbusiness agent called “Martin Branning” to offer sums of up to £30,000 “tax free” to his targets, many of whom were heterosexual men.
Among them are a very senior executive at Rupert Murdoch’s News UK alongside at least six other staff at The Sun newspaper – one with close links to News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks – friends, Facebook associates and users of the dating apps Grindr and Gaydar.
Two of the targets made criminal complaints to Scotland Yard without knowing the real identity of their tormentor with detectives aware of the activities of Branning – whose name is a portmanteau of EastEnders characters Martin Fowler and Max Branning – since 2019.
Our journalists handed a 28-page dossier of evidence to the Metropolitan Police for investigation on 20 June 2023, however last week criminal claims started to emerge on social media, with the posts rapidly attracting more than 18 million views, causing Wootton to trend on Twitter for several days.
As a result, this newspaper is today publishing some details of our findings. We have identified five co-conspirators, along with a representative group of around a dozen victims. However sources suggest the true figure extends to many, many more men.
Byline Times knows the names of those involved but, in order to protect the victims and the course of justice, it will not be revealing them publicly.
Wootton has been off-air at GB News, on which he hosts a week-nightly show, for two weeks taking leave to visit his family, who live near Wellington in his native New Zealand. He has been silent in the face of mass Twitter accusations except to retweet promotions of his broadcasting return due at 9pm tonight.
In his absence, the news channel has covered the money-for-sexual-images controversy surrounding the BBC and its lead presenter Huw Edwards, describing the story as a “nuclear bomb”.
Stand-in Mark Dolan told viewers on Dan Wootton Tonight: “It’s a bad day for Huw Edwards, as he battles for his health, and the future, of his career. But for the BBC, it’s even worse.” Dolan added on 14 July that “this Huw Edwards story is not going anywhere”.
#MediaToo investigation AND CROWDFUNDER
This is the start of a wider report into the toxic culture of the national media. We want to keep telling the story. Contributions to our #MediaToo crowdfunder will go directly to funding our journalism.
At the time of Dolan’s most recent comment, Byline Times investigators had already informed executives at GB News of the scope and veracity of allegations against Wootton, but the channel has continued to heavily promote Wootton’s programme.
During the established period of his activities, Wootton was initially an influential editor for Murdoch’s News of the World before moving, once that paper closed in 2011 after the phone-hacking scandal, to the Daily Mail and then, from 2013, to Britain’s biggest-selling tabloid The Sun, at which he edited its ‘Bizarre’ showbiz column before becoming an associate editor.
His career has given him great power and influence in British media and access to the worlds of television, celebrity and the monarchy, on which it is his highly-paid professional role to report.
Tonight, a representative for Dan Wootton declined to provide Byline Times with an on-the-record response. It is understood that he strongly denies all allegations of criminality. The representative did not clarify, when asked, whether Wootton also denies being Martin Branning.
‘The Next Day, the Profile was Gone’
Byline Times’ evidence extends to an account of admissions Dan Wootton made to a trusted former colleague and friend in which “during his many moments of crisis” he revealed his fear of being exposed as Martin Branning, and the prospect of a “pile on” of victims.
One victim – who is married with children – told this newspaper that he was left “in shock” to receive a text from “Branning” offering him £10,000 “tax free” in return for “private work” and to “pose nude”, adding that it “felt like blackmail or entrapment”.
A second victim told Byline Times that Branning had sent him messages from untraceable numbers “day and night” offering sums up to £30,000 in return for sexually compromising pictures “and that sort of thing”. This victim said he had uncovered a “pattern of men who had worked with Wootton” being harassed with unsolicited malicious communications.
“It was all pretty much always the same thing, £20-£30,000 for naked photos, ‘aren’t you intrigued about who I am?’ – this sort of stuff, right,” he said – adding that it was driving him “insane” and ultimately provoked him to go to the police, who sent a detective to his home to take a statement in 2019.
A third victim – a former junior colleague who has indicated that he is willing to speak to the police – revealed how on several occasions he received disguised calls with offers of “work” with a sexual context and said it was “pretty obvious” they were from Wootton.
A fourth victim – another junior colleague – was contacted on Facebook by Wootton in 2009 posing as a blonde woman called “Maria Joseph” who exchanged “flirty messages” before swapping images of an unconnected female face from reality TV in return for images of the colleague, who is heterosexual and today also married with children.
The fourth victim said: “I received a friend request from a girl called ‘Maria Joseph’. Immediately she was very flirty and, having just come out of a messy break-up, I didn’t have my wits about me as much as I should.
“‘She’ soon started to send me semi-nude pics and swapped to email and phone. Her number was a New Zealand number as she said she’d just come back from a year over there. As more pics came through, she started to request them from me, which I duly obliged (fortunately I kept my face out of).
“Then she started to send ones she’d already sent, which she brushed off with ‘obviously I’m talking to a few guys at the same time’. At this point, I’m being super careful and start to snoop further into her profile. Catfishing wasn’t really a known thing back then, but I knew something was up.
“We had five friends in common on Facebook – Dan plus four others. When I clicked the others, the only common link was Dan.
“Then a video came through of her having sex with a man. However, I recognised him as someone from a reality TV show as he’s a friend of a friend. This made me realise I knew the identity of the girl [and that it could not be legitimate].
“So with this, the NZ number, the sole common denominator, I was sure it was him. So, I messaged ‘Maria’ to say ‘Hi Dan, interesting way to get dick pics’. The next day, the profile was gone.
“I was embarrassed that I had not been vigilant. It makes my blood run cold as to how vulnerable I had made myself. I felt stupid.”
ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE? HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE
Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.
We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.
Byline Times is publishing today following a series of revelations made on Twitter by Wootton’s former partner of four years Alex Truby, in a thread of tweets which – at the time of publication – had attracted more than 15 million views.
Mr Truby said that Wootton gained unauthorised access to his social media accounts and email, leading him to suspect that he was being stalked. The intrusion became evident when Mr Truby found his Gmail account was being accessed from an IP address at the News of the World office, where Wootton was employed at the time.
Mr Truby also told how, while he was flat-sitting for Wootton in 2012, who was visiting family in New Zealand, he found a padlocked holdall concealed behind Wootton’s washing machine – which he opened and found an external hard-drive inside containing a secretly-filmed video of an employee of The Sun engaged in sexual activity with their partner.
With the video, Mr Truby described finding a transcript of an MSN Messenger conversation between The Sun employee’s partner and ‘Martin Branning’.
“The MSN conversation [was] between the colleague’s partner and someone called ‘Martin Branning’ whereby an arrangement was indeed made to make the sex tape in secret, without his colleague’s knowledge in exchange for £500,” Mr Truby wrote. “I knew instantly that ‘Martin Branning’ was Dan.”
Byline Times has learned that, before ending his relationship with Wootton, Mr Truby confronted him over the contents of the holdall. Mr Truby said that Wootton made a tearful admission of guilt, acknowledging he was the creator and controller of the pseudonym Martin Branning.
Byline Times has put the content of this story in its entirety to GB News, MailOnline and the Metropolitan Police.
After it was announced that Wootton would be fronting his regular GB News show at 9pm this evening, Byline Times again approached it for comment, extending the deadline for a response. At the time of publication, no comment had been provided.
A spokesperson for News UK said: “We have received an email from Byline this afternoon which we are looking into. We are not able to make any further comment at this stage.”
This newspaper’s dossier of evidence remains with the Metropolitan Police.
Dan Evans and Tom Latchem are former colleagues of Dan Wootton’s from the News of the World. None of the sources in this investigation were paid for their testimony