A Threesome, A Tax Avoidance Scheme, A Dominatrix and a Minister’s Private Life – The London Economic

A Threesome, A Tax Avoidance Scheme, A Dominatrix and a Minister’s Private Life

By Ben Gelblum @BenGelblum

When it comes to our UK press and politicians what is a private matter?

Snorting coke off prostitutes? Snacking on a bacon sandwich? Filing a tax return? Getting dividends from an offshore tax avoidance vehicle? Dating a dominatrix?

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For the past few months I have been trying to get to the bottom (no pun intended) of why a prominent politician’s relationship with someone professionally known as “Mistress Kate” whose place of work is a fully equipped dungeon (with crucifix) was investigated by different papers yet never hit the news stands.

This week the relationship of Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Olivia King, whose profession Whittingdale says he was unaware of as he met her on Match.com finally hit the headlines, with a variety of spin – depending on where you read it.

Reports on the Byline website had detailed the scandal, and our report in Private Eye and a Newsnight item on BBC2 further questioned the conflicts of interest of a politician responsible for controlling our press – large sections of which had photos and evidence of him dating a dominatrix.

Finally Whittingdale was forced to make a statement, and the press could no longer ignore the story. Especially as they had become part of it by not reporting it.

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The Culture Secretary insisted that he had ended the relationship in February 2014 when he found out the truth about Olivia King’s profession as he was made aware that someone was trying to sell the story of their relationships to tabloid newspapers. And that it had never influenced decisions he had to make on press regulation as a Culture Secretary.

Number 10 said that the Prime Minister had not been aware of the relationship until this week. And the Sun, Mirror group, Mail group, and the Independent, all of which had chosen not to publish this story about the man charged with overseeing the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry, now published Whittingdale’s version of events along with various smutty puns.

And of course, any of us suggesting that Whittingdale’s decision not to push through with the full recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, agreed on by all three main parties, voted on by parliament, then seemingly forgotten about was convenient for the same newspapers who had conveniently chosen not to publish a story on his relationship with a dominatrix -were branded conspiracy theorists by the Guardian and other newspapers.

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The Guardian ( who had also looked into the Whittingdale story earlier this year ) argued that the Cultural Secretary: “should not be dragged into the spotlight simply for having a private life or even for making a mess of it, let alone for being a Tory”.

The Mirror mentioned that its sister paper the Sunday People was offered the story for a “substantial five-figure sum” but after “considering issues of privacy, public interest and cost, the paper decided to turn down the story”.

The Sun and the Telegraph insisted that Labour MP’s and the BBC in asking whether Whittingdale should continue in his conflicted press regulation role were obviously carrying out a witch hunt against the Culture Secretary for his measures expected to further fillet the BBC and threaten its political independence, and refusal to “clampdown on newspapers”.

And fleet street figures from nearly every paper pontificated about how there had been no cover-up, that despite spending months investigating, following and photographing the couple, there was no public interest justification to tarnishing the private lives of two single people having a romantic relationship…

Just like Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbbot’s relationship when they were both single in the 1970s, I guess.

Or the other nothing-to-see non-story that is Jeremy Corbyn’s son being on dating App Tinder ?

Today some of those same papers are reporting on the Court of Appeal case in London that they hope will lift a gagging order by a married celebrity couple on an alleged threesome that they are er gagging to report on.

The Daily Mail’s Thursday front page seethed “Why The Law Is An Ass” and called the celebrity couple’s privacy injunction “draconian.” While The Sun on Sunday’s lawyers will be back in court on Monday to keep fighting this “Sex Gag Disgrace.”

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So I guess privacy is in the eye of the beholder. And as Private Eye also reported this week, the Daily Mail fuming about Labour-led smears on the Culture Secretary’s private life were presumably OK with the Mail on Sunday sending a reporter into the home of Louise James from County Donegal, who lost her partner, mother, sister and two sons after their car slid off a pier and into the sea. No one was more surprised than Louise James to read the exclusive interview she gave to the Mail on Sunday, as these were the words she had spoken in private to a woman who turned up at her home offering condolences, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Other opinion-makers slammed stories on Whittingdale as belonging to a bygone age when it was OK to demonise sex workers.

And if anybody has had their life turned upside down by this story it is Olivia King, who I am told has been hounded out of her home and work place by reporters this week hell-bent on digging more dirt up on Whittingdale and making this a story about him rather than when the press chooses to intrude on some private lives and not others. – Reporters from the very same papers that have pontificated about respecting his private life.

I have come across no evidence that John Whittingdale used his influence to stop the papers running the story. Or indeed whether he was in any way blackmailed into rolling back on the cross party consensus that the press should have incentives to submit to an independent watchdog.

But what became clear is that Whittingdale was aware that the press had a story on him they did not publish. And that his aims for the BBC and abortive plans to privatise Channel 4, as well as a self-policing press regulator IPSO suited the interests of certain newspaper proprietors.

And that Whittingdale was regarded as an asset to the owners of the very same papers who had made very high level decisions not to publish a story on him that the seasoned reporters working on the stories felt was a perfectly valid one.

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One of these journalists, The Independent’s veteran political reporter James Cusick has blown the lid on the full sorry tale since leaving the paper. Read his blistering account on Byline and buy this week’s Private Eye too before you make your mind up about whether the privacy of two consenting adults should have been respected in this case.

Privacy, as the Court of Appeal heard today, is a messy business in our age, with competing interests and more than 50 shades of Grey. And the Whittingdale “non-story” or “cover-up” – whichever you like – is one that all concerned will hope will be forgotten with time… Though I expect we will read more about it.

Whatever the Court of Appeal decide on Monday, papers will continue to be plastered with people’s private lives, whether a grieving mum from County Donegal, a celeb at the centre of a threesome, anyone not rich and powerful enough to keep themselves out of the papers. Despite being anxious to defend Whittingdale from “Labour smears” The Sun front page I noticed today couldn’t resist traducing the private life of a golfer. (I guess there’s too many “hole in one” and “birdie” puns to have a good laugh at.)

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Yet Whittingale’s is not the only file of dirt that has been withheld, sat in a drawer waiting to be published, like an obituary for a career. That’s for sure. And while snooping on people and keeping files on them sounds like gangsterism or stasi type behaviour, without the newspapers’ ability to throw time and money at investigating the rich and powerful, we would be run by a bunch of untouchable conceited hypocrites – as investigations into our leaders’ tax affairs have shown.

I’ll leave the last word to John Whittingdale, and I hope you can appreciate the irony as this is an excerpt from his speech delivered the day before The Independent’s editor spiked their lengthy investigation on Whittingdale at the last minute, last October.

John Whittingdale addressed the newspaper executives assembled at the Society of Editors dinner where he’d been invited to make the keynote speech again and stressed:

“the fundamental truth that a free press is one of the pillars of a free society. Abuse of power, corruption, lies and ignorance all thrive in the absence of an inquisitive and informative media.”

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