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The chair of the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has written to the editor of The Sun so it can “set out what investigations are taking place” into its former employee Dan Wootton – after Byline Times revealed the presenter hid behind fake online identities to trick and bribe men into revealing compromising sexual material.
However, Wootton’s current employers – MailOnline and GB News – have still not responded to any questions by this newspaper about whether and why he is still contracted to work for them.
While Wootton’s twice-weekly MailOnline column has not appeared since Byline Times’ investigation was published, he is still appearing on GB News’ Dan Wootton Tonight.
Conservative MP Dame Caroline Dinenage wrote to Victoria Newton, editor of The Sun, yesterday, 24 July, about its coverage of the recent ‘BBC presenter scandal’ implicating Huw Edwards, and Byline Times’ investigations into Wootton.
“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,” Dame Caroline said.
“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.”
In contrast to The Sun’s story about Edwards, which was followed up immediately by all major established media outlets and dominated headlines for days, mainstream publications have not extensively reported on Byline Times’ investigation into Dan Wootton.
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But Dame Caroline added that, since the Edwards story, “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” and said the committee “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,” the MP concluded in her correspondence to Newton.
Victoria Newton has already responded to the letter, according to Press Gazette. She has revealed that The Sun has appointed legal firm Kingsley Napley to investigate the Wootton allegations. Kingsley Napley, which boasts of being the “go-to firm for white collar crime”, also represented Rebekah Brooks – now chief executive officer of News UK – in the phone-hacking scandal.
Newton said: “We are investigating relevant matters raised by reports by Byline Times and The Guardian last week… 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.”
While this newspaper has repeatedly asked representatives for Wootton to confirm or deny whether the presenter was, or is connected to, the online identity ‘Martin Branning’, it has not received a response. Wootton has said he denies any allegations of criminality.
Byline Times today again contacted both MailOnline and GB News asking for a response to our investigations into Wootton and whether he is still employed by them and, if so, why he has not been suspended pending investigations. Neither acknowledged or responded to our questions.
A source said that “Dan’s column at MailOnline has been paused and he is not happy about it”.
When The Guardian asked MailOnline if Wootton was still being paid, a spokesperson told the newspaper that “there isn’t any update” before ending the phone call.
Byline Times’ investigators – who previously worked with Wootton at the now-defunct News of the World – have contacted the DCMS Committee to share their evidence.
Additional reporting by Josiah Mortimer and Adam Bienkov
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