Some Notes on Dan Wootton vs Byline Times

From a statement by GB News presenter Dan Wootton:

A hard left blog is on a deranged campaign of harassment designed to destroy me financially, mentally and professionally – but, with your help, they will not succeed.

Byline Times has eschewed all journalistic, legal and moral practices to publish a series of defamatory and untrue claims as part of a highly politicised witch hunt designed to cancel and de-platform me.

…The line-up of people which Byline and other biased sources appear to be relying on for their information include a convicted phone hacker, an abusive ex-boyfriend turned hard left campaigner who admitted in writing to me that he is a “psychopath” and threatened to “slit my throat”, a recently released violent criminal who has previously blackmailed me, and a convicted extortionist I have never met who was sent to jail for many years after being described by a judge as a “compulsive” danger to the public…

Wootton alleges that he is being targeted by Byline Times for political reasons (although the “hard left” descriptor is ludicrous), and he is asking supporters for £150,000, apparently to bring a libel case. His appeal follows a previous statement that he made on his TV show, in which he admitted to “errors of judgement in the past”, but beyond denying anything criminal did not go into detail about what these “errors” may have been [1].

There are a couple of threads to unpick here.

First, as reported in the Guardian, the main thrust of the initial Byline Times article concerns allegations that Wootton had used the online alias “Martin Branning” to ask men working in the media for explicit images in return for money. Certainly, it seems that someone has been doing this – the alias was first noted by Popbitch back in 2021, and the Guardian says that in the last three years it has “talked to multiple individuals working in the media who say they have been approached online by a person using the name Martin Branning”.

The Byline Times reporters claim to have spoken with four people contacted by “Branning” who believe from context that it was Wootton, as well as someone who believes that messages from someone using the identity “Maria Joseph” were from him. Are they all mistaken, or making it up, even? According to the article:

…a representative for Dan Wootton declined to provide Byline Times with an on-the-record response. It is understood that he strongly denies all allegations of criminality. The representative did not clarify, when asked, whether Wootton also denies being Martin Branning.

On TV Wootton referred to “legal advice” which supposedly means that he can’t comment on details.

As well as the five alleged targets quoted by Byline Times, the article also reports claims that Wootton had admitted to being “Martin Branning” to a “former colleague and friend”, and to his (i.e. Wootton’s) ex-partner Alex Truby. It is difficult to judge their credibility, but Wootton’s counter-allegations against Truby are of little value without more detail. In any case, these two witnesses are not crucial to the story.

It also should be noted that the five alleged targets are distinct from the “violent criminal” and the “convicted extortionist” referenced by Wootton. The “convicted phone hacker” is Dan Evans, the co-author of by the Byline Times articles. Some may judge that Evans’ historic involvement in this widespread illegal practice means that any subsequent journalism produced by him can be dismissed out of hand; others, however, may take the view that his regret means that his actions were just “errors of judgement in the past”.

Second, we come to the issue of criminality. Byline Times alludes to the existence of criminal allegations on Twitter, presumably referencing the extortionist (it’s not clear where the “violent criminal” fits in), and GB News has highlighted the extortonist’s discreditable past as an answer to all the allegations against Wootton. This person is not relevant to the question of “Martin Branning’s” true identity, and he is barely present (if at all) in the Byline Times article; nevertheless, there is a sense that his more serious (and unevidenced) allegations are being conflated with the Byline Times reporting. Byline Times also notes other allegations made by Truby on Twitter, although it does not vouch for their veracity.

Byline Times further says that two people who were pestered by “Martin Branning” went to the police, and that the journalists themselves have now presented the police with a “dossier”. Does this amount to accusing Wootton of criminality? Readers will (or should) understand that a lodging a complaint does not mean that police will necessarily agree that an offence has been committed, or that the right person has been identified.

And again, although Wootton may feel aggrieved at having been the subject of police complaints, his objection does not amount to a categorical denial that he had anything to do with “Martin Branning” or “Maria Joseph”. Neither does it address further non-criminal claims in follow-up articles on Byline Times about his alleged conduct while working at the Sun (containing details consistent with a report about an unnamed “pundit” that recently appeared in Private Eye magazine [2]). This is not beside the point when you are asking people to give you money to defend your reputation. (3)

As part of his fundraising, Wootton writes that “Byline have already come for the likes of the Free Speech Union, the Legatum Institute, GB News and Douglas Murray who received substantial damages for their lies”. The reference here to Murray is something of an extrapolation, although Murray has endorsed it. I have some further background on this here.

(post expanded on 22 July 2023)

UPDATE: Expressions of support for Wootton have been posted by Nana Akua, Lord Cruddas, Leilani Downing, Baroness Foster, Laurence Fox, Nile Gardiner, Andrea Jenkyns MP, Narinder Kaur, Oli London, Louise Mensch, Allison PearsonSarah Vine and Toby Young, among others.

UPDATE 2: Also on board is QAnon hotelier John Mappin, whose Tweet has been RTed by Wootton. Mappin writes that “I can’t say WHY. But it is VITAL that Dan ⁦ @danwootton ⁩ gets ALL the help that he needs”. In reply to a query from right-wing commentator David Vance about why he can’t say, his reply is that “Because it’s private”.

UPDATE 3: Nana Akua and Oli London subsequently deleted their Tweets of support, without explanation.

UPDATE 4 (February 2024): The Metropolitan Police and Police Scotland have confirmed that it is taking “no further action” as regards the criminal complaints. As reported in the Guardian:

In a statement issued through his lawyer, Wootton said he had been subjected to a “politically motivated witch-hunt through the left wing and social media”.

He said the accusations made against him “were completely spurious – lies designed to destroy my career where complainants were actuated by malice”.

…”I, like all fallible human beings, have made errors of judgment in the past. But the criminal allegations being made against me are simply untrue.”

At least now the “legal advice” he was advised to follow is no longer a bar to him addressing the issue of “Martin Branning” once and for all.


1. Wootton did, however, angrily deny false claims that he had deleted Tweets relating to Huw Edwards – this myth arose because he had not Tweeted for a week due to being on holiday.

2. Final paragraph of “Phil Chase”, Private Eye 1599 (2-15 June 2023), p. 9. The article accuses various unnamed media figures of hypocrisy in relation to Phillip Schofield, a subject Wootton has expressed strong condemnatory views on.

3. In a letter from his lawyers to Byline Times, Wootton rejects suggestions of criminality relating to the “Martin Branning” story, but again without clarifying whether he used the alias at all.

The “I Withdraw My Consent” Conspiracy Meme

From football website Fan Banter:

Matt Le Tissier and Rickie Lambert go viral again leaving viewers rather baffled with their latest videos trending on Twitter.

Both uploaded a new profile picture too, a message which read: “I withdraw my consent to be governed by any corrupt, compromised, belligerent, criminal parliament or government. I will not comply.”

The message, posted as a graphic of black writing against a yellow background, is currently being re-posted by “Great Awakening” and anti-Covid vaccination conspiracy enthusiasts across the UK and beyond. Supporters are also encouraged to video themselves reading the statement, and to send pro-forma letters to their local MP and to the prime minister. In this way, members of the conspiracy movement acting in cult-like unison signal their commitment while also pretending that they are engaged in some sort of act of individualist dissident bravery. The initiative is also a way to spread “sovereign citizen” concepts within the movement – specifically, the belief that a pseudo-legalese declaration has some sort of ritual power to release the utterer from the power of the law.

The originator seems to be Mark Sexton, a former police officer who got into the news in 2021 after lodging a police complaint against vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and who was involved in disrupting the work of a vaccination centre in October: the font and colour scheme for the “I will not comply” graphic have both been used by him before, and the message is currently prominent on his Facebook page. Others who are following his lead include conspiracy influencers Tom Numbers and Mark Attwood, as well as anti-vax GP David Cartland.

The campaign may also be related to an “invite only” afternoon where Sexton met with Attwood and Cartland last week – a photo from the event posted online (noted by @CoasterCrazy82) shows an earlier version of the wording on an display screen (“I no longer consent to being governed…”). As noted by John Bye, other attendees included anti-vaxx funeral director John O’Looney, Irish fugitive Dolores Cahill and (inevitably) disgraced MP Andrew Bridgen. However, a similar “Do Not Comply” message on a yellow background also appeared on t-shirts worn by Piers Corbyn and his supporters at Uxbridge and South Ruislip last week, as can be seen here (posing with Bridgen, even though Bridgen was there to campaign for rival fringe election candidate Laurence Fox).

Laurence Fox and Supporters Campaign in Uxbridge & South Ruislip

From GB News, mid-June:

Laurence Fox will run in the race to replace Boris Johnson as the MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip in West London.

…Fox, who starred in DS James Hathaway in crime drama Lewis, will run in the seat after the Reclaim Party leader agreed a “mutual cooperation agreement” with Reform UK.

A photo blurb adds “Laurence Fox often appears on GB News”, which understates his position as a regular presenter (1) on the channel (currently on hiatus due to election law). As has been widely noted, the primary motivation for his political activism appears to be bitterness at his personal circumstances as a divorced father, complaining in one Tweet in January (that he subsequently deleted) that “women have it easy”; he also expresses his discontent with the world via attention-seeking stunts such as burning some Progress Pride bunting in his back garden. Inevitably, his Reclaim Party (I say “his”, although it is bankrolled by a millionaire donor named Jeremy Hosking) is heavily invested in conspiracism, and especially Covid vaccination alarmism – this is a subject that the party’s sole MP, disgraced former Conservative Andrew Bridgen, now regularly uses to grandstand in Parliament.

Fox made an appearance in the constituency at the weekend, and photos show him addressing a crowd of less than 50 in a local park, including one person who had brought a large “Sovereign Citzen” banner. In the spirit of the pact with Reform UK, Fox was joined by Reform’s Ben Habib; Fox afterwards Tweeted his thanks to Habib and to some other supporters who were there: Bridgen, Fox’s GB News colleague and fellow conspiracy-monger Neil Oliver (2), and “CaliforniaFrizz”, a familiar figure from UK conspiracy-influencer meet-up events (3).

Oddly, Bridgen also chose to pose for a photo with one of Fox’s rival candidates – Piers Corbyn, who is running for a party called Let London Live. Corbyn and his own supporters were wearing t-shirts bearing their party’s web address, although the site isn’t yet live.


1. Fox recently complained that GB News won’t allow him to use his show to interview Katie Hopkins or Tommy Robinson:

I’m like, “why?”, because you have open racists on all other TV channels. So, you’ve got that – what’s that one who looks like she’s wearing a mop on her head? Shola [Mos-Shogbamimu]? She’s a massive racist. You get her on. You’ve got the other one that [indistinct] News, Narinder Kaur, who just says racist things and it’s fine… so you’re actually letting racists on TV dependent on their skin colour.

2. Oliver has recently started railing against “medical products” on GB News, as a way to evade censure for explicit Covid vaccination alarmism.

3. She can also be seen here as part of group called the “Elite Thinking Club” explaining that the moon landings must have been faked because there is a “shield” around the moon (17 mins in).

Duelling “Gotchas”: Jess Phillips and Katharine Birbalsingh

From Sky News:

Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips has been accused of “racist and bullying behaviour” after a row on social media with high-profile headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh.

…It came after Ms Birbalsingh, head of high-achieving Michaela Community School in Brent, said she inadvertently tweeted a picture of Tina Turner alongside her abusive former husband Ike Turner amid tributes to the late star.

…Ms Phillips then tweeted “hold the line!”, adding: “Stay with me! Domestic abuse is never ok and we will defeat those who prop up the status quo…”

The Tweeted image was a faux pas, but the allegation that Birbalsingh would have used the death of Tina Turner as a way to launder Ike Turner’s reputation or to make a dig at women who leave their abusive husbands is vicious and implausible; yet Phillips persisted with her opportunistic gotcha, celebrating Birbalsingh’s subsequent deletion of the Tweet as a victory and then sarcastically Tweeting a “sure” gif when Birbalsingh clarified her opposition to wife-beating. Phillips also Tweeted that she might write to the Michaela Community School to ask about domestic abuse policies in “her school or teaching plans”.

Birbalsingh had valid reason to complain about Phillips’ stance, and particularly her continuing unwillingness to accept that the Turner image had been posted inadvertently. However, her claim that Phillips instigated a pile-on motivated by “racism”, as laid out in a long letter to Keir Starmer that she has posted online, is based on flawed evidence and wild extrapolation and undermines her grievance. In particular, Alex Andreou has pointed out that Birbalsingh was already under attack before Phillips got involved, and that Tweets from third parties cited by Birbalsingh as evidence of a pile-on precede her intervention. Birbalsingh also incorrectly claims that she was singled out for criticism by Phillips when she recently gave a speech at the recent National Conservativism Conference, when in fact Phillips had offered scathing comments about a number of speakers.

Birbalsingh is on firmer ground when she complains that Phillips referred to her as “that headteacher woman” – such a description raises the suspicion that Phillips couldn’t be bothered to double-check how to spell an ethnic minority surname and so decided to dodge around it, but Birbalsingh’s extrapolation from that to “she holds me in contempt for being a black woman who does not bend the knee and consider her master” is excessive.

Further, an important plank of Birbalsingh’s argument in her letter is that Phillips allegedly subscribes to a belief that ethnic minority Britons lose their right to be considered as such if they do not supoort progressive politics. Her evidence here was a 2018 Tweet in which Phillips supposedly wrote that an unnamed Conservative Party leadership candidate “ain’t no Asian”. However, Birbalsingh had misread a screenshot, and the phrase used was actually “ain’t no Aslan”, mocking a contemporary media comparsion between the famous fictional lion and Boris Johnson.

The Tweet as reproduced by her appears to derive from a collage of undated salty Phillips Tweets that someone put together a while ago – here’s someone posting it in 2021 and making the same “ain’t no Asian” misreading. How this was brought to Birbalsingh’s attention remains unknown, but the fact that the Phillips Tweet hadn’t provoked any media interest ought to have been a red flag. The error, which Birbalsingh has conceded but downplayed, shows the importance of checking Tweets for oneself where possible (currently more difficult due to Elon Musk’s daily read limits).

Phillips had assumed the worst about Birbalsingh due to the latter’s high-profile position within UK culture wars – Birbalsingh describes herself as a “floating voter” who has sometimes voted Labour, but her appearance at the National Conservatism Conference was obviously as a supporter of a political movement. Last year, of all the people she could have invited to visit her school she chose the crank conservative commentator Jordan Peterson, and she recently made headlines by endorsing sensational yet unsubstantiated media claims that some schools allow children to identify as cats and other non-human things. In particular, she claimed that she had heard of a pupil somewhere who supposedly identified as a hologram – read alongside rumours of a cat-pupil, this obviously brought to mind the television series Red Dwarf, and raised the possibility that she was being pranked.

As regards Birbalsingh’s education policies, they are controversial but as far as I am aware there aren’t any ex-pupils complaining that they found the school environment oppressive. Also, she has at least shown that it possible to run a “strict” shool without resorting to hitting children with bits of wood, which is welcome.

I noted a previous instance of Phillips going on the attack based on false allegations here.