The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade observed yesterday that the settlement reached between Tory MP Mark Pritchard and the Sunday Mirror, after he had been targeted by the fictitious “Sophie Wittams”, apparently as part of the sting exercise that netted Brooks Newmark, included the paper making a payment – in this case, a donation to a charity of Pritchard’s choice.
He's feared. By whoever has to sit next to him on the plane
Why, Greenslade wondered, was a payment made? And why, as there was no involvement by new press regulator IPSO, or indeed any legal intervention, was the settlement confidential? Moreover, what could possibly have triggered the complaint in the first place, if the Newmark sting, as the current defensive line holds, was “narrowly targeted” on the one man?
Lloyd Embley, managing editor of the Sunday Mirror
This has so far not been told. But we do know that the presence behind “Sophie Wittams” was Alex “Billy Liar” Wickham, newly anointed teaboy to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog. The Fawkes rabble cemented its place at the heart of the Establishment with a celebration dinner on Tuesday evening. And a look at the guest list should prove instructive.
Spot the last-minute addition to the guest list
On the first page of names, there are a number of handwritten amendments at right. Conor Burns has been moved to a different table – he is on the printed list already – but there are a number of additions. Tory MPs Chris Kelly, standing down from Parliament next year, is one, and Kwasi Kwarteng, definitely not standing down next year, is another. But the third name is the one to watch.
Mark Pritchard MP
Yes, there he is, added in at the last minute – Mark Pritchard. The one MP on the list of seven to be invited along. And at the same gathering as not only Wickham and his pals, but also Lloyd Embley of the Mirror titles. The potential for Pritchard to have had a number of interesting conversations is only exceeded by the potential for yet more of those inconvenient questions.
Why was Pritchard, alone of those targeted by “Sophie Wittams”, invited along, and only at the last moment? Was this merely the inclusion of an MP who was otherwise at a loose end, and willing to come along and make up the numbers, or was there any connection with not just the sting operation, but also the Mirror reaching that confidential settlement that somehow involved a payment?
Then there is the Sunday Mirror correction: “although the Sunday Mirror did not publish any allegations about Mark Pritchard MP, we are happy to make clear that Mr Pritchard was not at any time suspected or accused of sending inappropriate or explicit messages and/or pictures to anyone via social media or otherwise”. They didn’t allege anything, but still made a payment.
Those questions keep on mounting up for The Great Guido. Another fine mess.