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Dan Wootton was a ‘Serial Bully’ at the Sun – But Bosses Promoted Him as Complaints were Silenced

In the second part of its three-year investigation, Byline Times examines the professional conduct of the TV presenter when he was a leading editor at Rupert Murdoch’s powerful British tabloid

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Dan Wootton was the subject of at least six bullying claims from colleagues while working for The Sun – but was promoted by the newspaper as complainants were silenced with large pay-offs and non-disclosure agreements, Byline Times can reveal.

The allegations against the journalist – today a star presenter for GB News and columnist for MailOnline – range from constructive dismissal to age discrimination, while several witnesses have also described a culture of sexual harassment under Wootton.

It follows this newspaper’s revelations on Monday that Wootton used the online pseudonyms ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’ – among others – to trick and bribe scores of men into revealing compromising sexual material for “tax free” sums of money of up to £30,000.

Representatives for Wootton have been asked by this newspaper to confirm or deny whether the presenter was, or is connected to, Branning. Neither Wootton, in his GB News statement on Tuesday, nor his representatives, have yet clarified this point. He denies any allegations of “criminality”.

Byline Times has now spoken to multiple former editorial and support staff at Britain’s biggest tabloid, many of whom are fearful of being identified after their experiences working at Murdoch-owned News UK – with one left suicidal, another suffering stress-induced hair loss, and others deserting the industry.

For that reason, we are protecting their identities, although they are known to their former employer which, last night – in response to a request for comment sent by Byline Times – contacted all staff at The Sun, announcing that it was looking into our “allegations urgently”.

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Among questions to the publisher, Byline Times asked it to confirm the “earliest date of any record held digitally or in analogue format containing the names ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’”. 

News UK declined to respond, but did not deny that all six individuals received severance payments contingent on the signing of binding ‘restrictive covenant’ or ‘non-disclosure’ agreements. The cost of the legal proceedings and settlements is estimated to be more than £1 million.

Its internal email to staff said: “Various allegations have emerged online and been reported over the last few days in relation to Dan Wootton, who many of you will know worked for The Sun between 2013-2021. 

“The matters reported are obviously very serious and include allegations that certain actions of Mr Wootton may have affected some members of staff at The Sun.

“We are looking into these allegations urgently and wish to hear from staff who may have been impacted or have relevant information.”

‘You Were Either With Him or Against Him’

As part of a three-year special investigation into 40-year-old Wootton – details of which we will continue to publish over the coming days and weeks – Byline Times is today examining his professional conduct while employed at The Sun.

While News UK last night urged potential complainants to go to The Sun’s corporate affairs team if “contacted by external media for comment”, this newspaper is taking care not to reveal the sexes or job titles of the six people, whom it is understood are not the only ones who feel they were bullied or harassed by Wootton.

In one of the cases, a very senior member of The Sun team took a kitchen knife to a meeting with a former editor of the newspaper with the intention of slitting their own wrists in front of the executive, who had sided with Wootton in a dispute ultimately settled for a six-figure sum.

The Sun made the pay-out at the eleventh hour ‘at the steps’ of an employment tribunal in 2018, at which emails from Wootton disclosed to the employee’s lawyers would have entered the public record and led to judicial findings of fact.

Former staff have told Byline Times’ investigators how Wootton “continually tried to make people admit they were bisexual or gay – he challenged people on their sexual orientation all the time”.

Several sources have spoken of the sexual harassment of male colleagues, while at least two female colleagues were reduced to tears daily by his conduct.

Naming three particular targets of “very inappropriate behaviour”, they said: “He sexually harassed these male colleagues all the time. One would come in and Dan would often comment on the way he looked and goad him, saying ‘are you sure you want to be married? We all know you’re gay’. 

“He was pressurising them to turn [gay] and acting like it was a joke but people – men, women, everyone who heard – were visibly uncomfortable especially as it was coming from a boss.”

A different source said: “You were either with him or against him. If you were against him, he would make your life a misery, and if you were with him, he would treat you as a slave. He’d demand people run errands for him – get him food or drinks or do his dry cleaning. It was so demeaning but it amused him. If you wanted to stay in your job, there was no choice but to endure.”

Byline Times can reveal how another complainant started losing their hair with stress after working closely with Wootton, whose conduct as The Sun’s executive editor was characterised as being one who considered himself “untouchable – he made you feel helpless”.

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Another News UK staffer was marched from the company’s headquarters after being “undermined and constructively dismissed for months and months” by Wootton before “standing up to him” with a complaint to the paper’s then editor.

The staffer said: “It was ridiculously stressful. He was constantly condescending and sarcastic. Diaries of his behaviour were kept – the things he was doing. 

“As the boss, he had control over the company payment system. He would sabotage other journalists. He would go into the payment system and find out the names of contacts. He would then get in touch with them himself and make them deal with him directly. 

“It was impossible to do your job. The most valuable thing a journalist has are their contacts. They are our stock in trade. It was a classic campaign of constructive dismissal. He knew what he was doing.”

A different member of staff became “thinner and thinner” and “cried every day” they worked for Wootton, who they said “destroyed” them “physically and mentally”.

Another editorial worker said: “There were months and months of real bullying – mind games and heavy emails often late at night so bad they ruined your sleep.”

Just as News UK started asking questions last night about Wootton’s conduct there, bringing in external legal counsel to oversee a human resources investigation, Byline Times can reveal that it is not the first time Wootton’s relationship with its HR department has been questioned.

In October 2018, Private Eye reported on “admissions” about Wootton – without naming him – regarding an investigation into the “subject of bullying complaints” a year earlier.

The magazine told how a “tired and emotional” former head of HR, Rachel Martin – who, like Wootton, is from New Zealand – had told a group of journalists drinking in a pub by News UK’s central London HQ that she had “tried to protect” Wootton during a probe she was overseeing into his conduct.

Private Eye reported how The Sun journalists questioned Martin’s impartiality given she was seen “enjoying” Wootton’s “hospitality” in the official News UK executive box at the O2 “while her investigation into his behaviour was ongoing”.

Byline Times has learned that one of The Sun six, on legal advice, went “above” Rachel Martin with their complaint in 2018. As a result, News UK was obliged to use HR professionals attached to a sister company – Wireless – to oversee an investigation leading to a large settlement.

Martin left the company and went back to New Zealand soon after.

A source at The Sun said: “Dan got so many perks and so much access it was easy for him to ingratiate himself. He made sure Rachel Martin was like his best mate.”

Dan Wootton Reveals ‘Regrets’ and Claims ‘Dark Forces’ Attacking GB News in Response to Byline Times’ Three-Year Investigation

The TV presenter did not address this newspaper’s detailed allegations of him using a fake persona to target men online

Demands for Another Promotion

The list of complaints about Wootton did not stop News UK from promoting him and giving him pay rises and ever more prominent positions at the newspaper.

But he had a decisive falling-out with current editor Victoria Newton.

In February 2020, on her first day in the role, Wootton left Newton furious by “demanding” she promote him, prompting a “cute” move by the new editor, who reached out to Wootton’s “best remaining royal contact” and placed them on a special retainer ensuring that they dealt exclusively with her.

A source said: “This was the beginning of the end for Dan at The Sun. He didn’t like having the same move pulled on him that he had done to so many contacts of other people.”

Less than a year later, Wootton left News UK for his current position at GB News.

Over the years, Wootton has used his Twitter account – on which he has 518,200 followers – to criticise others accused of bullying, including in January 2020 when he tweeted: “As one of Phillip Schofield’s closest colleagues at ITV for many years his comments on the bullying reports are also very revealing: ‘I would never negate those allegations, because they are valid. If these people are all coming forward, then there’s no smoke without fire.’ Woah.”

He also used his Bizarre column in The Sun in October 2017 to take aim at the sexual harassment carried out by fallen Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

In the first-person article, he condemned “a disgusting conspiracy of silence” that had he claimed had “been engineered by some of most powerful and famous men in Hollywood… to protect a beastly individual with a long and well-known track record of the most appalling – and potentially illegal – treatment of young, innocent and sometimes naïve women”.

Wootton also used his platforms to regularly discuss the use of NDAs and their legal validity in the private lives of a number of celebrities including TV personalities Ant McPartlin and Paul Hollywood – despite The Sun six being subjected to them.

Byline Times contacted representatives for Dan Wootton, but his solicitors declined to comment. This newspaper will, of course, update this article with any comment on the record.

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

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