Sunday Mirror defends tactics after critics attack subterfuge used to end career of father-of-five Tory MP.
As a middle-aged minister keeping long hours in the social maelstrom of Westminster, Brooks Newmark was clearly flattered to receive the attention of a striking blonde public relations worker calling herself Sophie Wittams.
After a series of tweets from the self-styled "twentysomething Tory PR girl" linking to his own online musings, the 56-year-old MP followed her on Twitter and sent a private message expressing his satisfaction that "you appreciate my humour".
Unbeknownst to the Minister for Civil Society, he was in reality swapping increasingly flirtatious banter with a male freelance journalist looking for a scoop about MPs seeking assignations via social networks. The true nature of the four-month subterfuge became painfully clear to the millionaire married father of five when the Sunday Mirror called.
He was asked to comment on his increasingly graphic messages to "Sophie", accompanied at one point with a picture of him exposing himself. Speaking after his resignation, the MP for Braintree, Essex, told BBC News: "I have been a complete fool. I have no one to blame but myself. I have hurt those I care about most."
However, the Sunday Mirror was under pressure to explain the details of its sting after it emerged that Newmark was only one of at least six Conservative MPs contacted by "Sophie" from a fictional Twitter account, now deleted. The website Buzzfeed retrieved details of the account, which suggested that the journalist behind the story had cast his net wide. Among recovered tweets were messages describing Robert Jenrick, who won the Newark byelection in June, as a "fitty" and Charlie Elphick, the MP for Dover, a "legend". Unlike Newmark, the MPs sent polite, professional replies.
With Fleet St's conduct still under intense scrutiny, critics of the Sunday Mirror's tactics suggested it amounted to entrapment. The broadcaster and blogger Iain Dale tweeted: "The [Sunday] Mirror sting on Brooks Newmark was a hark back to the dark days of the News of the World."
Under the code of the newly founded Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), subterfuge should be deployed only when a story is "in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means".
It was also alleged last night that the Sunday Mirror had not obtained permission to use the photos of "Sophie" sent to Mr Newmark, who had requested explicit images of her, including one "without your hands in the way and legs parted". The picture on the false Twitter account is of a Swedish model, Malin Sahlen.
The Sunday Mirror, whose parent company Trinity Mirror last week admitted that phone hacking had taken place on its national titles, insisted that there had been a "clear public interest" in its investigation because of Newmark's prominent role in seeking increased representation of women in Parliament.
Alison Phillips, the Mirror's weekend editor, said: "Brooks Newmark was a co-founder of the Women2Win campaign and was at the forefront of Conservative Party attempts to promote more women MPs. Therefore his exchanges with someone he believed to be a young intern interested in politics were wholly inappropriate."
Support from selfie subject
A mother of two whose "sunbathing selfie" was hijacked by a tabloid newspaper to help snare Brooks Newmark in a sex scandal has insisted the MP had nothing to be ashamed of.
Charlene Tyler, 26, told the Telegraph she was upset that a photograph of her in a bikini was used as part of a fake Twitter account in the name of Sophie Wittams.
Tyler said it was quite wrong that the Sunday Mirror had copiedher photograph without her consent.
She expressed concern for Newmark and insisted the MP had not acted improperly by sending an intimate photograph of himself to the fake "Sophie", who he believed was a twentysomething Conservative activist.
Tyler, from Boston, Lincolnshire, said: "I think grown adults can do whatever they like as long as both of them are over the age of consent.
"I don't think it's something to resign over."
She added: "I hope the MP is okay. It makes me feel really awful that this will ruin his life ... The newspaper's taken it too far."
- Telegraph Group Ltd
'A complete fool'
Brooks Newmark, 56, was born in Connecticut, but moved to the UK when he was 9. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, he worked in banking and private equity before becoming an MP.
His wife, Lucy, 52, is the daughter of the late distinguished military historian Sir John Keegan. The Newmarks have five children aged between 17 and 26.
Elected in 2005, Newmark served as a whip before losing the job in 2012 after posting a series of tweets about TV shows and films.