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Downing Street rejects calls to strip Culture Secretary of press regulation role

John Whittingdale did not inform the Prime Minister about press interest in his relationship with a sex worker. Credit: Reuters

Downing Street rejected calls for Culture Secretary John Whittingdale to step aside from decisions about press regulation after he disclosed that he had a relationship with a sex worker.

A senior Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has got full confidence in John Whittingdale to carry out all of his duties."

The spokesman confirmed that Whittingdale did not inform the Prime Minister about press interest in his relationship when he was appointed to the Cabinet after the 2015 General Election.

The Prime Minister learnt about the affair about 10 days ago when the story emerged on the internet, the spokesman said, adding it was a decision for Whittingdale whether he felt it necessary to inform him.

Although the relationship took place before he was made a minister, Whittingdale was at the time chairman of the influential Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee which had held a series of high-profile hearings on the phone-hacking scandal.

BBC2's Newsnight reported that four newspapers - The People, The Mail on Sunday, The Sun and The Independent - had investigated the claims at the time but concluded it was not a public interest story.

Bob Satchwell said it was a 'conspiracy theory too far' to say newspapers and broadcasters jointly decided not to publish the story. Credit: PA

Members of the Hacked Off campaign said the Culture Secretary had been "compromised".

But the executive director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, said it is a "preposterous conspiracy theory too far" to say newspapers and broadcasters "jointly decided not to publish" the story.

The idea that the newspapers and broadcasters could all get together and say 'we are not running the story' is just silly. Since the Leveson report and the establishment of a new and tougher press regulator, papers have become extremely careful about stories involving anyone in public life.

– Bob Satchwell, Society of Editors

The Number 10 source declined to say whether Mr Cameron believed the media should have published the story, saying only that this was a decision for newspaper and broadcast editors.

"The British press, as we have seen in recent days, are very vigorous in their pursuit of stories," said the source. "He is not going to pass judgment on things like that."

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