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GB News ‘Axes’ Dan Wootton After Fox Storm and Catfish Scandal: The Full Story

Dan Evans and Tom Latchem reveal Dan Wootton’s departure from GB News looks set to be permanent – and examine the true cost to the network of sticking by a £600,000-a-year employee who broke editorial codes with impunity and engaged in sordid activities posing as the fictitious ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’

Dan Wootton will be disappearing from the GB News line-up for good, Byline Times understands

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Dan Wootton needs a “miracle” to save his £600,000-a-year job as GB News’ star presenter as owner Sir Paul Marshall seeks to “detoxify” the brand as he bids for the Daily Telegraph, Byline Times can exclusively report.

Wootton – whose private and professional conduct has been the subject of a series of exposés by this newspaper – was informed on Friday that his services are unlikely to be required at the station again, alongside those of actor-turned activist Laurence Fox.

The pair are at the centre of a misogyny backlash after Fox staged a sexist rant denigrating journalist Ava Evans on Tuesday live on Dan Wootton Tonight while the host laughed along, attracting some 7,300 viewer complaints to regulator Ofcom.

GB News is also cutting ties with a third broadcaster – Calvin Robinson, who was a regular face on Wootton’s show – and is reviewing the employment of a number of other employees ahead of a further Byline Times investigation to be published tomorrow.

And last night a GB News editorial source told this newspaper: “Dan Wootton has left the building and a lot of people are relieved.

“There has been anger and disappointment about all the negative attention. Good journalists have been questioning their futures at the channel. Dan’s face was left off a big promotion last week. It will be a miracle if he’s seen here again.”

The absence of 40-year-old Wootton has rocked the network he joined as a founding host two years and three months ago, and which Robinson on Friday credited him as being “significant” to the “building” of through his influence on recruitment both “behind the cameras as well as on-screen talent”.

While Wootton smiled through a public appearance on Friday night at Westminster’s Central Hall, this newspaper can reveal that he is privately considering, following the loss on Thursday of his £250,000-a-year column for MailOnline, quitting the UK to return to his native New Zealand.

A source close to the situation told Byline Times: “It has been made clear to Dan that he will not be broadcasting again on GB News any time soon, just as he will not be writing for MailOnline. Right now, he feels as if he might prefer just to go back to Wellington to be near family.”


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The Marshall Plan

Although the crunch for Wootton at GB News may have seemed to come swiftly following the Ava Evans incident – in which he smirked as Fox branded Evans a “little woman” and asked “who’d want to shag that?” – Byline Times can reveal that GB News’ founding stakeholder Sir Paul Marshall has been losing patience with the journalist for at least two months.

The potential for harm to the brand became obvious when this newspaper unmasked Wootton in July as the hidden controller of the online pseudonyms ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’ – two catfishing identities used to fraudulently obtain compromising digital sexual material from scores of men over at least a 10-year period, and in some cases blackmail them.

In addition, Byline Times handed a dossier of evidence outlining some of its findings about Wootton’s personal behaviour to the Metropolitan Police on 20 June. We will be updating it for detectives shortly as our investigation into Wootton continues.

When on 18 July Wootton used his GB News platform to launch personal attacks on this newspaper, its journalists and a former partner – while admitting to “past errors of judgement”, denying criminal behaviour, but not to being or being connected to ‘Branning’ and ‘Joseph’ – the network’s ownership took notice.

Not only did it place Wootton in breach of his employer’s own Editorial Charter, which outlaws ad hominem attacks on individuals, it highlighted a tabloid presenting style known to be disliked by 64-year-old Sir Paul, who despite having no control over GB News’ output, holds the purse strings on an asset that lost around £28.3 million in the last accounting period, according to new analysis by Byline Times.

In addition, the catfishing scandal emerged as Sir Paul was hiring bankers from Moelis to advise on a £600 million takeover proposal for the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the acquisition of which would make him a “kingmaker” of the British Conservative Party – a position that for the first time in decades is up for grabs after the semi-retirement of 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch as the UK’s pre-eminent media baron.

A well-positioned source in the finance world told Byline Times: “Paul has been watching the fall-out around Wootton from the outset somewhat askance. He is fully across the financial health of the company, but has even greater interest in its political credibility.

“Paul has never been comfortable with Wootton’s extreme tabloid style. There has been a conversation around improving the presenting personnel for a couple of months.

“In particular, Paul disliked Wootton’s habit of staging personal attacks. They are short-sighted and have huge capacity to backfire – as has been demonstrated perfectly with the Ava Evans incident.

“There was a concern that Wootton’s antics were making GB News a parody of the free speech channel it was intended to be. It sat very poorly with the original vision to set a credible alternative tone for the right-of-centre political conversation in the UK. Wootton’s future there has been in question for a lot longer than many people, even he, might have believed.”

The Clean-Up Begins

Wootton, Fox, and Robinson are not the only GB News staff likely to be affected by moves within the network to improve on editorial standards – as it faces 12 current Ofcom investigations, with more complaints also under consideration for further action by the communications regulator.

“Everyone can see that GB News is looking more and more amateurish,” an editorial source at the broadcaster said. “There has been a haemorrhage of journalistic talent this year and it is showing.

“People recognise that the presenters have been having too much power while far too many of the production staff are hopelessly under-experienced. It was inevitable under those circumstances that standards and objectivity would suffer.

“A rolling news network with an operating budget of around £40 million-a-year should have steady hands at the tiller, not uni leavers and ideologues without the knowledge or character for senior responsibility.

“The last time any news channel collected Ofcom investigations like GBN is right now, it was Russia Today before it was stripped of its broadcasting licence. GBN needs to detoxify and shape up fast if it is to avoid the same.”

Byline Times has spoken to a variety of credible sources within GB News who say moves are now afoot to “clean house” and apply standards after a series of broadcasting embarrassments – including a presenting performance by newscaster Martin Daubney this month, in which he swore on air over an autocue failure, that attracted widespread ridicule on social media – and serious questions about its vetting of personnel.

In recent weeks, this newspaper has also been in close correspondence with GB News about a series of stories examining other culture and workplace practices, details of which Byline Times will soon publish. That process involved the presentation of a long list of questions relating to racism, sexism, and recruitment at the network, prompting GB News to appoint external legal counsel in the form of eminent London law firm, Payne Hicks Beach. Byline Times understands that this has led GB News to look carefully into the files of certain employees.

The sexist broadcast by Wootton and Fox that sealed their fates caused a media storm that saw Wootton grovelling to target Ava Evans to save his job. Distancing himself from Fox, Wootton posted on X (formerly Twitter): “I apologise unreservedly for what was a very unfortunate lapse in judgement on my part.”

Fox, however, considered Wootton’s distancing an affront to his right to free speech, as well as his “moral support” when Byline Times exposed Wootton’s predatory behaviour. Shortly afterwards, he released his own private messages with the journalist, which seemed to contradict Wootton’s public contrition.

In a post on X, Fox said “honesty is the best policy” as he published Wootton’s immediate reaction to their live exchange on Ava Evans – featuring laughing emojis and the words: “Can you imagine them freaking out in the Gallery!!!!!” as Fox replied: “So much fun. Xx.”

Fox also posted messages to support his claim that his interview with Wootton was pre-agreed with show planners and that GB News knew he intended to use the word “shag” on air.

Gossip site Popbitch went on to claim that Wootton ignored repeated warnings from both production staff and senior management in real-time to stop Fox’s monologue, and then declined to air an apology to Ms Evans – instead deciding to offer “a touch of balance” by saying that the political editor was “beautiful”.

Wootton’s subsequent reaction to finding himself in hot water is said to have cost him the loyalty of a production team that had stuck with him even as Byline Times’ investigation into his private and professional conduct placed him under a significant cloud.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a GB News production source said that Wootton “was raging on Wednesday morning trying to throw people under the bus when he spoke to his team, blaming everyone but himself”.

“It cost him the backing of about two-thirds of a group that was loyal despite all the catfishing and other dark behaviour people outside were constantly talking about,” they added.

Notably, Ben Leo – editor of Dan Wootton Tonight and previously a Wootton loyalist – removed mention of his host and executive editor role from his X bio, as did senior producer James Liney.

A new GB News promotional poster shows Dan Wootton, the channel’s once star presenter, missing from the line-up

Not Adding Up

On Friday, GB News chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to condemn the Ava Evans exchange, conceding to presenter Amol Rajan that it “should not have happened”.

He said GB News would be investigating the broadcast and “looking very closely at the production process that went into the programme”.

This led Wootton to win public support from GB News regular Calvin Robinson, a “reverend” with connections to far-right groups, who said he would not appear on GB News without his suspended colleague. It was an act of solidarity that quickly saw him become the third presenter suspended, and now allegedly permanently axed.

Attacking “careerist ambitious” colleagues “who are currently gunning for his [Wootton’s] job” for failing to rush to back the presenter, he added: “These people are worse than the woke mob, because these vultures are giving the mob ammunition and essentially escalating the channel’s demise.”

But, according to The Sunday Times, Alan McCormick, GB News chairman, sent an email to staff on Friday evening, saying that the broadcaster “is not a place that tolerates personally denigrating comments or insults” and pushing back against the “narrative” and “falsehood that conflates free speech with a right to verbally abuse”.

The extreme turbulence around GB News – characterised by operations at its Paddington Basin studios which some staff, past and present, describe as “chaotic” and “rudderless” and beset with examples of racism, misogyny and sexual harassment as revealed by Byline Times in August – has translated into problematic viewing and advertising revenue figures.

Analysis by this newspaper shows, for example, that – before it was axed – viewing figures for Dan Wootton Tonight had declined from an average of 99,000 viewers / 0.73% share of those watching in the month prior to Byline Times’ first July expose; to an average of 69,000 / 0.56% by the time of our eighth expose on 9 August: a decrease of 30,000 and 23% respectively.

In the same period, the channel itself lost 8% of its viewership since a June peak, with ‘primetime’ – in which Dan Wootton Tonight sat – hit even harder, losing 12% of viewers and 13% of audience share.

Wootton’s continued command of his GB News platform was also said to be putting off some major companies from wanting to advertise. Byline Times has learned that a major retailer was in talks with GB News advertising executives this week to discuss promotions on the channel, with Wootton’s status on the agenda.

The backing of big brands is important to GB News. Figures from its last accounts showed it was losing some £84,000 a day – around £31 million over the 2021-22 financial year – while up-to-date analysis suggests that figure is likely to remain at around £28.3 million for the 2022-2023 period.

It can also be revealed that Wootton’s week-nightly show was being propped up with low-yield adverts, according to industry data.

While the big beasts of the advertising market pay around £4 for every thousand people they reach, minor brands pay well under half that. An analysis of commercial and viewer activity around Wootton’s show revealed there were 80% more ads broadcast between 17 July – the day this newspaper started publishing its investigation into Wootton – and 6 August, compared to the previous month.

Yet the real-term value of the ads showed a 43% slump in income – or £49,586 over the period – as GB News crammed its airwaves with niche brands, although this may in part be associated with a summer holiday ads slowdown.

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Wootton Unmasked

The Dan Wootton saga began when Byline Times started to reveal how the presenter had been hiding behind fake online identities to trick and bribe scores of men – including colleagues, friends, celebrities, and regular members of the public – into revealing compromising sexual material.

This newspaper told how his former partner, Alex Truby, had stumbled upon a holdall containing hard-drives including a secretly-recorded sex film of friends of Wootton’s and an MSN Messenger transcript in which Wootton was posing as a fake agent called ‘Martin Branning’.

That sparked a three-year investigation, which has so far revealed evidence that Wootton catfished friends – blackmailing at least one and releasing sexual material to third parties without consent – colleagues and people in the public eye, solicited and harassed men for sex, and engaged in malicious communications and misuse of company funds. Wootton denies any allegations of criminality

Following Byline Times’ initial stories, some prominent colleagues including Fox, Beverly Turner, Toby Young, Conservative Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson, and the Daily Mail’s Sarah Vine turned out in support of Wootton, while other public figures, including well-known showbusiness agent Jonathan Shalit, came out for him before later seeming to resile their position, deleting tweets of backing. Vine’s, however, remains up with the hashtag #innocentuntilprovenguilty.

Wootton also set up a legal crowdfund declaring his determination to sue Byline Times for defamation. The fund quickly raised around £35,000 (of a target of £150,000) and attracted supporters, again including Fox, and writers Allison Pearson and Douglas Murray. 

He is said to have irritated lesser-paid colleagues by asking them to contribute – while this newspaper has previously reported how he even asked one of his previous ‘modelling’ targets, The Only Way is Essex star Kirk Norcross, to do so.

Having stalled, the crowdfund has since been deleted, without explanation as to the destination or usage of the money donated. At the time of writing, Wootton has yet to issue proceedings against Byline Times.

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‘Useful, Until they Aren’t’

Wootton has presented a defiant front throughout the developing scandal. Until this week, he was appearing routinely on his show offering views on ‘woke’ politics and matters including allegations of rape and sexual misconduct levelled at the comedian Russell Brand.

Away from the cameras, though, it has been a different story. Wootton broke down in the GB News green room during the first advert break of the 17 July broadcast of Dan Wootton Tonight as Byline Times started publishing the result of its special investigation into his activities. Sources described the atmosphere among his 16-strong production team as “funereal”.

But backroom staff were left with more questions than answers when Wootton composed himself and returned to the airwaves the following day to launch an unprecedented personal attack on Byline Times, its journalists, and Mr Truby, who first named Wootton as Martin Branning in early 2020 and whose social media posts of 12 July have since had more than 15 million views.

In the six-minute piece, Wootton insisted “nefarious players” and “dark forces” were trying to bring the station down and undermine free speech, wrongly branding Byline Times as a “far-left” blog. Following this, our journalists came under extraordinary attacks.

One had what appeared to be blood smeared on their car window outside their home. Hackers tried to gain access to journalistic material on Wootton held by another. Anonymous callers threatened Byline Times’ news executives as anonymous emails promised that “blood will flow”.

Despite the seriousness of this newspaper’s findings, it was only last week that GB News chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos addressed them, telling Conservative MP Dame Caroline Dinenage, chair of the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee, that they were being “monitored” – rather than actively investigated by the network.

However, Byline Times can reveal how in July in a meeting with Frangopoulos – whom this newspaper has since revealed was himself the subject of sexual harassment allegations leading to the pay-off of a female former staffer who is today bound by a non-disclosure agreement – Wootton is understood to have admitted to being ‘Branning’, but claimed that the alter ego was a cover for him to be able to use dating apps as he was “too well-known” to use his actual name.

Frangopoulos then privately told colleagues at the channel that, while some of what Wootton had admitted was “sordid”, he saw keeping him on air as a stand against “cancel culture” – even as his star presenter’s £250,000-a-year column with MailOnline was being suspended (Wootton’s contract with the website was finally terminated this Thursday), and as his former employers News UK, publishers of The Sun where a lot of Wootton’s wrongdoing took place, launched a major internal investigation.

All of which has played poorly with GB News’ financial backers which, alongside Sir Paul Marshall – who is chairman and chief investment officer of Marshall Wace, a £45 billion hedge fund – include Dubai-based investors Legatum.

And with MailOnline deciding to cut ties with Wootton over the Fox storm, his departure from GB News was “inevitable”, say insiders.

“The purpose of the investments from the people in Dubai is to possess political influence in the UK,” a senior GB News editorial source told Byline Times. “There’s an agenda – they are anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, and pro-Boris Johnson on everything. People like Wootton are useful, until they aren’t. At that point, it is an easy commercial and political decision.”


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Mutiny Risk

As Byline Times has continued to break its investigation, relying in part on the testimonies of a wealth of digital and human sources, some close to Wootton fell – wrongly – under suspicion and were frozen out. 

Wootton, meanwhile, was adopting a ‘carrot and stick’ approach among his production team.

“Dan started coming into the newsroom much earlier than was his habit, during the afternoon, rather than two hours before his 9pm show,” another GB News employee said. “He was much more collegial. He started bringing cakes and biscuits for us, although in the past he had treated us quite poorly. Everyone said it felt like he was trying to buy support.”

However, the storm surrounding Wootton’s personal and professional conduct and his  continued platforming – in direct contrast to GB News’ position over Huw Edwards and Phillip Schofield – which also saw the journalist lead the recent coverage of serious sexual allegations against Russell Brand, appeared to turn the public off. 

Even with the departures of Wootton, Fox, and Robinson, the station has its work cut out to stave off a potentially existential threat to its Ofcom-regulated future, amid criticisms of a lack of impartiality, allegations of a toxic work environment, and a staffing crisis. 

“It is an extremely unusual number of Ofcom investigations to be facing,” another industry source told Byline Times. “In the mainstream, they are like hen’s teeth. It is so rare for a channel to have even one investigation, maybe two, in a bad year.

GB News runs at about £40 million a year operating costs, so you would expect there to be a team of compliance advisors making sure editorial is sound, with exterior counsel reviewing the process from a political and regulatory point of view asking the basic questions like ‘what can we say on air or not?’ You would expect a channel that size to have a team in place.”

The insider added: “Ever since they covered the Phillip Schofield scandal they have been like a dog with a bone on every hot-button issue. They have really waded in on the trans conversation, for example, and other pop culture-esque issues.

“They’re under the microscope with Ofcom for being politically controversial when to do so would be a breach of the regulations. Their ‘Don’t Kill Cash’ petition is very much in that territory.

GB News has a lot of ex-newspaper people working for it and is taking a Daily Mail approach to broadcasting – noticeably tabloid. But the mainstream newspaper industry is unregulated, while broadcasting very much is. Yes, it has seen an overall improvement in viewing figures year-on-year, but at what cost?”

Last month, Ofcom ruled that a March episode of a morning show hosted by Esther McVey and Philip Davies, both Conservative MPs, did not “represent and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of significant views on a matter of major political controversy and current public policy”. The pair had interviewed Chancellor Jeremy Hunt about plans for his spring budget. This was the third breach of Ofcom rules for the channel.

GB News is also under scrutiny over Friday’s interview of Home Secretary Suella Braverman – conducted by the Deputy Chairman of her own party, Lee Anderson.

An editorial source spoke of the unwelcome welter of Ofcom investigations, which are “making the credible journalists at GB News worry about their reputation and impartiality”.

“Every day we face these issues,” they said. “We just hire Conservative politicians [constantly] – there are about 10 of them there – and it’s f**king frightening. No wonder Ofcom is investigating.

“There are a lot of politically independent journalists we take from the mainstream like Mark Longhurst, Eamonn Holmes, and Isabel Webster. But then there are the ideologue voices which are only getting louder. It’s a massive worry. If this continues, there are a number of credible journalists and presenters who are decent and who are strongly considering speaking out about all this.”

Sky News presenter Adam Boulton and Conservative MP Caroline Nokes are among those who have called for the news channel to be stripped of its broadcast licence and go online only. Their comments sparked criticism with Tim Montgomerie, editor of Conservative Home, saying that such a move would amount to ‘censorship’. 

He posted on X: “GB News has some big issues to sort but here we go again – illiberal liberals like [Adam Boulton] rushing to censor and shut down alternative voices. Laurence Fox should be fired for repeated offences but closing down the whole station smacks of establishment authoritarianism.”

For Professor Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster, the cost is high. He is calling for Ofcom to step in to address the pattern of investigations facing GB News.

“We’ve seen in the United States how Fox News has been exploited as a platform for far-right views and conspiracy theories,” he told Byline Times. “We have impartiality rules in this country that are supposed to act as a check on that kind of hyper-partisan poison, and we have a regulator in Ofcom that is supposed to implement those rules.

“But Ofcom seems oblivious to the real danger that GB News poses to this country and our democracy. It has been asleep at the wheel for too long, and it’s time our regulator woke up and did its job.”

Byline Times contacted GB News for comment.

Dan Evans and Tom Latchem are former colleagues of Dan Wootton’s from the News of the World between 2007 and 2011. None of the sources or analysts cited either in this story or wider investigation were paid

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