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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 November, 2003, 17:00 GMT
Sun editor accused of 'threats'
Clive Soley
Soley used parliamentary privilege to raise the complaints
The editor of the Sun has been accused of trying to "warn off" an MP against investigating claims of sexual harassment and bullying at the paper.

Labour MP Clive Soley told MPs a letter sent to him by Sun editor Rebekah Wade had amounted to a "threat".

It came after he looked into allegations against Stuart Higgins, the newspaper's editor from 1994 to 1998.

The Sun said Mr Soley's decision to air the claims without knowing whether they were true was "extraordinary".

'Serious allegations'

Mr Soley raised the matter as a point of order, using the parliamentary privilege which protects MPs against libel action.

The former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party told MPs: "I am concerned about the letter I received from an editor of a major newspaper following queries I'd raised about sexual harassment and bullying at News International.

"This letter was a thinly disguised attempt to warn me off.

This would not appear to be a proper use of this ancient privilege
News International spokesperson
"Recently I received an unsolicited copy of a letter to News International lawyers from a firm representing a victim of serious sexual harassment.

"The allegations had been made against Stuart Higgins, one-time editor of the Sun newspaper.

"I understand the eventual settlement involved payment of about 0.5 million with a condition of silence imposed on the victim.

"As far as I am aware no proper disciplinary hearings took place and other senior staff appear to have colluded with what was, by any standard, extremely offensive and destructive behaviour.

"The police were not called when hate mail was being sent on News International stationery to the victim."

'Threat'

Mr Soley said he did not know whether News International chief Rupert Murdoch had been told about the offence or the settlement.

But his contacts had suggested the complaint was not an isolated case and there had been no attempt to tackle the underlying problem, he argued.

Mr Soley said he had raised the issue in the Commons because after he wrote to News International chief executive Les Hinton he had received a letter from Ms Wade.

"The letter asked me how many complaints of sexual harassment had been made to me while chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, by my staff, the Parliamentary Labour Party staff and by MPs' staff. In fact I had received none," he said.

"It is impossible to see this letter as anything other than a threat as I had not approached any editors, I had only approached this chief executive's office.

"It must be a matter of serious public concern when a major multi-national media group uses its editors to threaten an MP who is carrying out a legitimate inquiry into that group's employment practices.

"As I am asking other employees who also suffered abuse to contact me or their lawyers, it is important that editors and management understand that this House will not tolerate explicit or implicit threats against its members when carrying out their proper duties."

'Extraordinary decision'

The Commons speaker told Mr Soley: "I think in order to help you the best thing I can do is to fully investigate this matter. If you will allow me, I will investigate the matter."

Responding to Mr Soley's claims, a News International spokesperson said: "Mr Soley has hidden behind parliamentary privilege to raise allegations made seven years ago concerning two ex-employees of News International.

"He has made the extraordinary decision to name one of these employees despite having no knowledge as to the truth of the allegations or to the outcome of the alleged complaint.

"This would not appear to be a proper use of this ancient privilege.

"Our company enjoys no such privilege and we are bound by a continuing duty of confidentiality to ex-employees, by data protection legislation and by our internal human resources procedures not to discuss allegations of this kind.

"The Sun's investigation into harassment in Parliament is, I believe, ongoing."




SEE ALSO:
Clive Soley
17 Oct 02  |  Politics



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