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Dan Wootton’s £250,000-a-year MailOnline contract has been terminated following his suspension by GB News over the Laurence Fox misogyny storm – as new details emerge of an investigation into his conduct while writing for the website.
The presenter’s twice-weekly MailOnline column had already been suspended for the past 56 days while lawyers for publisher DMG Media looked into allegations in Byline Times’ special investigation exposing Wootton as a serial catfisher and sexual predator.
Wootton’s prime-time week-nightly GB News show Dan Wootton Tonight was taken off air after he laughed along with a sexist rant by political activist Fox, whose disparaging remarks about journalist Ava Evans provoked a huge backlash.
In a filmed statement this evening, Fox claimed he provided Wootton with moral support, and helped him to set up a crowdfunder, following Byline Times’ “attacks” on him, which had left the presenter “in hot water”. Fox said that Wootton distancing himself from his comments about Ms Evans, after their exchange was aired, was therefore disloyal.
The former actor believes he has been made a “scapegoat” and that the duo’s suspension shows that GB News – which bills itself as the “home of free speech” – is now the home of cancel culture.
A DMG Media spokesperson said today that “following events this week, DMG Media can confirm that Dan Wootton’s freelance column with MailOnline – which had already been paused – has now been terminated, along with his contract”.
This newspaper can now reveal details of the internal probe at MailOnline into Wootton’s use of the online pseudonyms ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’ to obtain sexual images of men by deception – which he has never denied being or being connected to – that foreshadowed his sacking today.
What Really Went On?
A source close to the matter told Byline Times: “It has been clear internally ever since Dan’s column was suspended that he would not be returning to MailOnline, although there were contractual obligations to observe which meant a due process of investigation had to be undertaken.
“His moments of madness with Laurence Fox live on air gave the pretext DMG has been waiting for. Wootton will not be seen at Derry Street [MailOnline’s Kensington HQ] again.”
As part of its wider probe, this newspaper can reveal how top DMG lawyers and editorial decision-makers spoke to at least one of the celebrities Wootton targeted with overtures for explicit sexual images.
Byline Times reported last month how Wootton pressurised former Big Brother star JJ Bird to pose nude for photos, having initially offered him money for an “underwear shoot” for a supposedly legitimate brand, in a ‘shoot’ at Wootton’s home in London’s Shoreditch.
Mr Bird said: “He invited me to a test shoot at his flat with a fee attached. At that time, I was trying to fund my boxing career and develop my career in entertainment. Dan was a big name in the world of showbiz journalism who had the power to do that… Looking back now, it was a complete abuse of his power and position and he should not have been offering to do that kind of thing.”
At the time of the incident, Wootton was just beginning his career with the MailOnline’s sister publication, the Daily Mail.
In a video call on 14 August, Bird gave his detailed account of events to Geraldine Elliott, a partner at leading London law firm RPC, appointed as external counsel by DMG’s head of editorial legal, Liz Hartley.
It followed detailed discussions between Wootton and MailOnline bosses in the wake of Byline Times’ article in which we first unmasked Wootton as the hidden hand behind Branning and Joseph.
External lawyers from another top law firm, Kingsley Napley, had already been brought in by Wootton’s previous employers NewsUK – publisher of The Sun – to investigate the revelation that Wootton used the fake identities to sexually harass men, including newsroom colleagues, to try and either trick or bribe them into sharing sexually explicit digital material.
Wootton has previously said he had made “errors of judgement” in the past but has branded the “criminal allegations” as “simply untrue”. His representative previously told the Guardian that “Wootton did not at any time contact current or former colleagues at The Sun with offers of money in return for sexually explicit images” and “did not engage in inappropriate behaviour in the workplace”.
This newspaper understands that Wootton was summoned to a meeting with DMG chiefs and asked for his account of events – and that he denied the truth of some elements of Byline Times’ investigation and refused to discuss others.
“There was a sense that Dan could have done more to meet the questions he was being asked,” the source said. “It gave the company plenty of pause for thought.”
#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.
Calling for Accountability
Wootton’s column was only officially paused after this newspaper published digital evidence on 3 August to show the email addresses for Branning and Joseph used an eight-character password also connected to Wootton’s personal website email address, his official work email address, his LinkedIn, and his MySpace account, among others, exposed in an open source data leak. The odds of the accounts sharing the same password were, according to an eminent PhD specialist in mathematical prediction modelling, “vanishingly small”.
“By this point, the allegations were too serious to ignore and the evidence was mounting up,” the source added. “It wasn’t an option to not comment.”
This newspaper further understands that Wootton requested additional financial support from DMG when we started exposing him on 17 July.
A second source close with knowledge of the matter said: “Dan wanted external help regarding the impact of the Byline Times investigation, which raised eyebrows at the Mail. At the time, he was earning the best part of £1 million a year and the need for him to enjoy further financial backing was not immediately obvious.
“He was appearing four nights a week as the anchor on a national news channel known in the industry for paying pretty well. That was hardly going to go unnoticed.”
It is understood that some of the actions of Wootton’s lawyer, Donal Blaney – a solicitor who appears to specialise in representing individuals aligned to hard-right politics – were also unpopular at Derry Street.
Blaney sent out legal letters to third parties, on Wootton’s behalf, denigrating MailOnline as “morally reprehensible” over the alleged leaking of information about his client.
As part of its investigation, DMG Media’s lawyers are understood to have spoken to several of Wootton’s former colleagues.
The investigation and the coincidence of Wootton’s on-air troubles at GB News have given DMG Media the impetus to finally sack Wootton in a manner consistent with Wootton’s own calls for accountability for other media figures accused of workplace, and other, wrongdoing.
They included, most recently, Wootton’s calling out of his former ITV colleague Phillip Schofield, who quit the channel in May when details emerged of a relationship with a junior colleague, leading Wootton to brand Schofield “the most loathsome man” on TV.
Byline Times asked DMG Media whether the MailOnline investigation into this newspaper’s allegations about Wootton was still ongoing and, if not, what it had concluded. It did not receive a response.
Tom Latchem and Dan Evans were former colleagues of Dan Wootton’s at the News of the World between 2007 and 2011. None of the sources in this article were paid for their testimony
Byline Times is currently investigating Dan Wootton’s two years at GB News. If you have any information, or complaints about Wootton, or his aliases ‘Martin Branning’ or ‘Maria Joseph’, contact this newspaper in complete confidence by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org