Dan Wootton Threatens Legal Action After Police Investigation Ends

From Dan Wootton’s crowdfunder, last summer (emphasis added):

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.

…We must fight back against the current state of social media, where any allegation can be made in an attempt to get someone on the right cancelled and it is impossible to defend yourself. This is even the case where they have claimed that I have engaged in criminal activity when I have never been arrested, interviewed or charged in respect of any of the allegations against me.

As is well known, Byline Times had published allegations that Wootton had used pseudonyms to solicit intimate images of men in return for money, adding that his alleged targets believed “catfishing” to be the motive. Wootton denied having done anything criminal, although he kept to generalities: he never denied using the pseudonyms, and he referred to enigmatic “errors of judgement in the past”. He also denied other criminal allegations, which had the effect of conflating the Byline Times accusers with other individuals, against whom Wootton was able to raise issues of credibility.

Wootton’s reference to the lack of any police contact was confirmed by an article that appeared in the Independent in August:

Scotland Yard said: “In June 2023, the Metropolitan Police was contacted with regards to allegations of sexual offences committed by a man.

“Officers are assessing information to establish whether any criminal offence has taken place. There is no police investigation at this time.”

That changed in October, as was reported by the Guardian, the Mirror and Byline Times as a new development in the ongoing story. However, rather than update his supporters, Wootton – whose crowdfunder included a GB News screenshot bearing the words “No censorship” – instead reached for his lawyers. It seems that they cited the February 2022 Supreme Court ruling in Bloomberg LP v ZXC that, to quote a legal discussion here, “a person under a criminal investigation has a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation”. The Guardian and the Mirror decided that it wasn’t worth pushing back and deleted their pieces, but Byline Times declined to do so. I discussed the issue in general terms here.

That police investigation has now ended:

In a statement, the Met said: “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. An investigation was commenced into these allegations. All parties involved have now been advised that no further action will be taken. There were no arrests during the investigation.”

Wootton is signalling via Paul Staines’ Guido Fawkes website that he intends to take legal action, while Andy Wigmore has posted Tweet in which he appears to promise funding while denouncing “that little @peterjukes and woke leftie @Hardeep_Matharu and the rest of the extremists at @BylineTimes”. This is a bit much given that when in 2018 Wigmore filed a police complaint against Byline Media he posted a photograph of the online submission form as if that in and of itself had significance (no police action followed).

The Guido Fawkes website has also given some brief commentary about the case, inferring from the outcome that the police believe Wootton has been the subject of a “smear campaign”. That is a speculative extrapolation given how little detail Wootton has chosen to share about what happened, despite issuing a new statement.

The circumstances of ZXC are very different from the position in which Wootton found himself – and it should be noted that the “reasonable expectation of privacy” is merely a starting point, not a rule that reporters must now follow. There was no such “reasonable expectation” for instance when Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner were investigated in May 2022 after Richard Holden MP handed over misleading information to police in Durham. Of course, Wootton could alternatively complain of libel, but if he believes he has a case then it seems odd instead to launch a privacy action.

However, if Wootton does decide to press ahead, then I’m sure his testimony under oath about the pseudonyms “Martin Branning” and “Maria Joseph” will be of interest to many.

NB – the “catfishing” allegations should not be conflated with the reasons why Wootton disappeared from GB News, which I discussed here.

UPDATE: Press Gazette adds:

Dan Wootton is seeking damages, an apology and the retraction of articles from Byline Times after it reported on the fact he was being investigated by police.

Press Gazette understands that Wootton’s legal team is also writing to Carol Vorderman and former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis over statements made by them on Twitter.

The suspended GB News presenter is also considering legal action against other media outlets over articles published in October last year.

The notion of a “retraction” doesn’t seem coherent: even if Wootton successfully argues that the police investigation ought not to have been reported in October, that hardly applies now, when he himself has referred to end of it and the matter is common knowledge.

However, a letter from his lawyer Donal Blaney has apparently persuaded Maitlis to delete at least one old Tweet in which she noted the fact of the police investigation and what it was about, quoting Byline. Paul Staines frames this as “deleting conspiratorial tweets”, the strained suggestion being that the allegations against Wootton – including the “Martin Branning” alias – are conspiracy theories that no-one should have taken seriously. Wootton, of course, can now boast that a famous journalist has withdrawn a Tweet about the allegations.

Blaney previously ran the Young Britons Foundation (blogged here) and he has a long history of collaboration with Staines. This perhaps explains why Guido Fawkes is apparently doing free PR for Wootton.