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The Sun finds itself in line of fire over report on Huw Edwards

Days after publication, the newsreader is in hospital with mental health issues and the paper is rapidly backtracking

The Sun has faced many big controversies in its time. The tabloid’s reporting on Huw Edwards could soon be added to that list.

Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper is facing serious questions over its reporting and ethical standards, after it alleged Edwards paid a 17-year-old for explicit images – only for police to conclude there was no evidence to support this allegation of serious criminal wrongdoing.

Days later, his wife said Edwards is in a hospital dealing with “serious mental health issues” and the newspaper is rapidly backtracking on its original story. Extraordinarily, on Wednesday night the Sun insisted its initial claim that the presenter had given a young person “more than £35,000 since they were 17 in return for sordid images” was not a suggestion of criminal activity.

Instead, the newspaper blamed other media outlets for misinterpreting its reporting and leading to the police getting involved, saying: “We must also re-emphasise that the Sun at no point in our original story alleged criminality and also took the decision neither to name Mr Edwards nor the young person involved in the allegations.”

Even before the police had cleared Edwards of illegal behaviour, doubts started to emerge over the Sun’s key allegation that he bought pictures from a 17-year-old. The young person in question, now an adult aged 20, issued a statement on Monday through their lawyer saying the allegations were “rubbish”.

They also insisted they had told the Sun prior to publication that the story was wrong and that no illegal behaviour took place, yet the newspaper had failed to flag this denial in any of its reporting.

The Sun, which normally defends its stories to the hilt, soon began to backtrack. One source at the Sun said on Tuesday they had been “very careful” to not suggest images had been exchanged at that age.

The Sun sources instead tried to shift the blame to other outlets – notably the Sunday Times, a fellow Rupert Murdoch newspaper – for suggesting there could be a criminal inquiry. They said readers should have interpreted the story as a piece about concerned parents trying to stop payments to a vulnerable person with a drug habit.

The same people even suggested that it was not the Sun’s inquiries into Edwards that prompted the BBC investigation – and that the newspaper had merely helped the parents with an existing stalled investigation.

It is also unclear whether the Sun has seen much of the underlying evidence for its allegations in terms of bank statements or other hard evidence. The newspaper’s reporting has instead been based on anonymous interviews with the mother and stepfather of the 20-year-old at the heart at the story, interviews it says have been backed up by signed legal affidavits.

On Wednesday night the Sun said they have no plans to publish further allegations but would provide the BBC corporate investigations team “with a confidential and redacted dossier containing serious and wide-ranging allegations which we have received, including some from BBC personnel”.

They insisted they had simply been reporting the concerns of a mother and a stepfather: “From the outset, we have reported a story about two very concerned and frustrated parents who made a complaint to the BBC about the behaviour of a presenter and payments from him that fuelled the drug habit of a young person. We reported that the parents had already been to the police who said that they couldn’t help. The parents then made a complaint to the BBC which was not acted upon. It is now for the BBC to properly investigate.”

In a sign of its growing defensiveness and nervousness, on Tuesday the Sun published a lengthy editorial stating the story was “squarely in the public interest” and insisted its reporting was always about “alleged abuse of power”.

One issue throughout the past five days is that the rest of the media were unable to independently verify most of the allegations and had to rely on the Sun’s reporting. The BBC also dedicated enormous resources to chasing the story, covering it across many of its bulletins.

Since the Sun’s original story, other allegations have been made against Edwards, albeit anonymously. The Sun claimed he travelled across London during lockdown restrictions to meet a person he met on a dating app, while another individual said they exchanged messages with Edwards on Instagram while a child.

BBC News also deployed its investigations team to work on stories about Edwards, publishing a story about the presenter talking to a person in their early 20s on a dating site. When the person publicly talked about naming Edwards online, they allegedly received abusive messages from the presenter.

Shortly before Edwards was named, one BBC journalist questioned whether a flawed story had been used as a battering ram for other pieces. They said: “We could get into a situation where there is a story in the Sun about a BBC presenter that is not what it was billed as at the beginning – and turns out to be not criminal. But it has set the hare racing to see what other people can find out about the presenter.”

There may still be more to learn about the case, with other journalists still working on investigations into Edwards.

But it is the Sun which is now facing serious questions – and a potential legal risk: Edwards has used his Twitter account to like a tweet suggesting the Sun could now “face the mother of all libel actions”.

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