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Disappearing Act: Major Publishers Including Guardian and Mirror Delete Stories on Dan Wootton Police Investigation After Legal Threat

Publishers and members of the public were threatened with exemplary damages and punitive costs by the presenter’s lawyer – but Byline Times stands firm in its reporting

The Guardian’s front page on 18 September 2023 on the Russell Brand allegations

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Major newspapers, including the Guardian and the Mirror, deleted their reports that suspended GB News host Dan Wootton is now the subject of a Metropolitan Police investigation, following allegations revealed about the presenter in a special investigation by Byline Times

On Tuesday, this newspaper exclusively reported that Met detectives from the Complex Investigation Team of the force’s Central Specialist Crime division are looking into serious allegations relating to the obtaining of sexual images by deception and blackmail by Wootton.

A Met Police spokesperson told Byline Times: “In June 2023, the Metropolitan Police was contacted with regards to allegations of sexual offences committed by a man aged in his 40s.

“Officers assessed all information available to establish whether any criminal offence has taken place. We can confirm that an investigation has now commenced into these allegations.

“Detectives will continue to liaise with the complainant to establish the circumstances. There has been no arrest and enquiries continue.”

Although Wootton has never denied being, or being connected to, the false online identities of ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’, he denies any criminality.

The Guardian, the Mirror, several other Reach titles, and Newsquest’s The National in Scotland, reported on the development – but soon deleted the articles. This followed a legal warning issued by a lawyer representing Wootton.

Readers attempting to access the removed news stories were met with an error code at the original URLs.

There has been no explanation provided by the publications regarding their decision to withdraw the articles, according to Press Gazette. But a spokesperson for the Guardian Media Group told the industry title: “Following a review, the article has been taken down.”

Byline Times understands from a source at Reach that the decision did follow a legal threat.

However it wasn’t just publishers who received notice of exemplary damages. At least two individuals with substantial followings on X (formerly Twitter) received the following warning from Wootton’s legal firm, Griffin Law, for sharing the stories:

Legal Threat from Dan Wootton’s Lawyers

In Bloomberg LP v ZXC [2022] UKSC 5, the Supreme Court made it clear that any person under criminal investigation has, prior to being charged, a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation.

In publishing our client’s name last night, Byline Times has breached our client’s rights in that regard. They will now face the consequences of doing so in court…

Should you, by 12pm today, (a) not delete the offending tweet immediately and (b) not agree to undertake not to republish these or similar allegations, to publish an apology in terms to be agreed with our client, to pay damages and to pay our client’s costs, you will be joined to that claim as a defendant. Given this clear and unambiguous warning, you would also face aggravated and/or exemplary damages and a punitive order for costs on the indemnity basis.

We would urge you to exercise restraint and act ethically and in accordance with the law. Should you do otherwise, you should not be surprised if you face the expense of litigation yourself.

Yours faithfully

Griffin Law

Standing Up to Threats

Legal action on grounds of breach of privacy could result in aggravated and/or exemplary damages, publishers fear, with outlets potentially ordered to cover the legal costs for both parties. 

But Byline Times’ own legal advice – and that of other legal experts – contradicts the claim that this amounts to a breach of privacy. 

Byline Times’ Executive Editor Peter Jukes said: “Wootton’s lawyer has been threatening people on Twitter with exemplary damages and punitive costs merely for linking to factual public interest articles that detail a Met investigation into their client (who champions free speech). There is no precedent for this.” 

Editor Hardeep Matharu described publishers’ decision to delete their Wootton stories as “just staggering”, while Jukes added that the saga is “why this story runs and runs – each chapter just reveals more about the state of our media”. 

TJ McIntyre, Associate Professor at UCD Sutherland law school in Ireland, said: “Scotland Yard has announced that a man in his 40s is under a formal investigation… The legal basis for Wootton’s threats appears to be the Supreme Court judgement in ZXC v Bloomberg [2021] on the right to privacy of individuals under criminal investigation.

“However, the Wootton situation is a wholly inappropriate application of the ZXC principles. Allegations of his wrongdoing were already widely publicised, and his public profile meant that his behaviour and the police response are clear matters of very strong public interest.”

Lawyer Stephen Kinsella observed: “I’m sure there are precedents for trying it on. But media organisations need to stand up to it and also publish the lawyer letters.”

Dan Wootton is currently suspended from GB News and has been sacked as a columnist for MailOnline, after failing to stop an on-air sexist rant by actor-turned-activist Laurence Fox against journalist Ava Evans. Fox has been sacked by the channel, while GB News has said its investigation into Wootton following the misogyny controversy is continuing.

Wootton’s MailOnline had already been suspended following this newspaper’s investigation. The allegations into Wootton are also currently under investigation by his former employer, News UK. 

Conservative MP Dame Caroline Dinenage, chair of the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee, wrote to GB News, MailOnline and News UK to ask what action these organisations have taken following Byline Times’ investigation.

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