The press had kept the story quiet, even though they all knew about it. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s more than year-long relationship with dominatrix Olivia King, her gangland connection, the trip to Amsterdam with her that he didn’t declare in the Register of Members’ Interests, her accompanying him to a bash in Parliament, and all the rest, was kept out of the papers. And how many papers were in on it has now been revealed.brought the whole sordid business to public view in a Byline Media project. Here, he has told of the media players who might have been expected to lap up the story, and some who believed it was their duty to publish, only to all get cold feet and pass on it.
Whittingdale, Cusick tells, only got the Culture Secretary role after Boris Johnson turned it down. In an echo of David Cameron’s woeful misjudgment over Andy Coulson, he gave the MP for Maldon the job “after taking little or no counsel”, and even though 10 Downing Street knew that the press had the story on his private life.
But thus far Cameron has not had a problem, and that is because, one after another, the papers have shied away from the story. As Cusick relates, the Mirror group title Sunday People went to great lengths to follow Whittingdale and Ms King, including that trip to Amsterdam, and surveillance of the sex club near Earl’s Court where she worked on a regular basis, using the name “Mistress Kate”.
The result? The newspaper group that splashed Tory MP Brooks Newmark on one of its front pages published nothing, and at the time that Whittingdale’s attitude to reform of press regulation was moving away from supporting the proposals made in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. The MP was, in the last Parliament, chair of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. He was already influential in that arena.
All the photographic evidence was then fed through now-disgraced fixer Max Clifford to papers including the Sun. Editor Dominic Mohan was offered the goods, but declined to buy. That’s the same paper that right now is screaming blue murder at a judicial decision to forbid it splashing the private life of a “Married Celebrity Parent” all over its pages. The story pressed every tabloid button. Yet the Sun, too, chickened out.
After Whittingdale had lectured Max Mosley about his private life - there’s a pot and kettle moment for you - the story arrived at the in-tray of Mail On Sunday editor Geordie Greig. As Cusick tells, “According to Mail on Sunday staff, Greig made a moving speech to the gathered team, saying this was the type of political story that defined great newspapers, and if the MoS backed off, it had no right to call itself a newspaper”.
Guess what happened next.
Cusick again: “Months later, a friend of Ms King said Whittingdale had offered his partner an assurance that nothing would be published”. The intended publication day came and went. “When the small team of journalists returned to the Mail’s Kensington headquarters on the Tuesday they expected to redouble their efforts to track down [Ms] King. Instead Greig simply told them the investigation was to stop. No further explanation was offered”
Who was behind the order to drop the story? “Over the next few days, some Mail on Sunday journalists claimed Greig had been told to back off by Asssociated Newspapers' editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre”. Dacre is one of those most vehemently opposed to properly independent press regulation.
But then the story arrived at the Independent. There had been an initial determination to publish, then, as Cusick explains, “as the investigation advanced nearer to publication, with the paper’s lawyers backing the investigation’s focus on a wider political and commercial cover-up rather than just the detail of Mr Whittingdale’s personal liaisons with a prostitute, it became clear the editor, Amol Rajan, had a problem”.
He pulled the story. He pulled it straight after appearing at a Society of Editors meeting at which Whittingdale spoke. Also present was Paul Dacre.
Cusick notes there was a suggestion that the Guardian or New York Times could be given the story, musing that it “suggested taste wasn't an issue and that several public interest factors - namely Whittingdale’s contradictory moral stance, his voting record in the Commons, the Mosley lecture, and questions over his expenses - all justified publication”.
On top of all that, of course, is Whittingdale’s open support for press regulator IPSO, the continuation of the discredited PCC, his decision to stall on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, and his stonewalling recently at a meeting with victims of press intrusion. The impression is given that this is a man whose back is being covered by those who stand to gain from that stalling. And they stand to gain from his attacks on the BBC.
But now the story is out there. And there is not only more to come, but also more media outlets willing and able to bring the story to a wider audience.
You can support James Cusick’s Byline Media project HERE.