The Sun has provoked a furious reaction with its lead story Tuesday after associating a little boy with the Devil in an Omen-esque front page.
The paper faced a fierce backlash and accusations of "going on a witch hunt" after publishing the story entitled: "BOY, 4, HAS MARK OF DEVIL," with even MPs calling on the story to be pulled.
"A sinister Satan sign that mysteriously appeared on a four-year-old boy is proving a devil to explain," the story starts, accompanied by a picture of the boy, and his stony-faced mother.
His "shocked" mother reveals her horror that her young child has clearly been cursed by some evil spirit, rather than, perhaps, there being a more plausible explanation for the mark.
"Just looking at it made me shake thinking something unnatural had visited my boy," the mother said.
"Something or someone made the sign on him but we just can't explain how."
The family, who are "desperate for the truth" and "confused and frightened" by the mark, have looked into explanations including that it could be the result of an alien abduction, or the Symbol of Mammon - the sign of the Devil's first born.
The mother shared the image of her child on Facebook for all her friends to see before turning to the national newspaper for answers.
"You see this kind of thing on scary sic-fi films, It isn't supposed to happen to families like us," she said.
GP turned Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, reacted angrily to the story, branding it "damaging" and demanding that the paper pull the article.
.@TheSunNewspaper should pull their damaging front page story with photo of a child. He does not carry 'mark of devil' he is a real child!— Sarah Wollaston MP (@drwollastonmp) July 28, 2014
Speaking to the Guardian, Wollaston said she would be referring to the story to the Press Complaints Commission. "It is a completely outrageous headline, and to link that with an identifiable picture of a child is wholly inappropriate on every level," she said.
"This is absolutely not lighthearted. What possible justification can there be for including this child's face, or for saying this child is marked by the devil? It is the most irresponsible piece of journalism I have seen for a long time."
When contacted by the Huffington Post UK, the paper said it would not be responding to the MP's comments.
The Labour MP Tom Watson, well-known for disliking Rupert Murdoch's tabloid, also tweeted his disgust.
Tomorrow's sun headline is "Boy, 4 has mark of the devil." Do you ever get embarrassed @rupertmurdoch? Please sort it out.— tom_watson (@tom_watson) July 28, 2014
Others commented that after child abuse deaths, such as the tragic case of Victoria Climbié which was partly motivated by a fear of satanic possession, the reporting was irresponsible and dangerous.
As The New Statesmen's Media Mole queried: "Should we really be encouraging the idea that children can have devil's marks, even as a silly season joke?"
Others speculated that the mark could simply be a hairdryer burn:
I see the Sun has gone full on ate my hamster with that hairdryer story.— FW (@frozenwarning) July 29, 2014
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the Sun it wasn't a burn from a hairdryer on that kid.— Col (@Bigshirtlesscol) July 29, 2014
@BethEleri Clearly a hairdryer. I'm staggered no one seems to know what happened to him or why the Sun quoting a fantasy creature.— Andy Hicks (@andyjameshicks) July 28, 2014
A spokesman for the Sun told the Guardian: "This was a story provided by the parents, who had already publicised the pictures and story on Facebook. We sought to treat it in a lighthearted fashion, highlighting the apparently fanciful link to the occult.
"We are conscious of the code and guidance around paying parents. We did not encourage the parents to embellish or expand the story; it came to us, and had already been the subject of discussion (raised by the parents) on social media.
"It's also worth noting that no concerns were expressed about the child's welfare. An unusual mark appears, the mother gets it checked out by a doctor who confirms there is no medical reason why it should be there, and discharges her. Social workers are not involved."
But many readers commented on the fact that the parents of the young boy "need to take a good look at themselves," and blasted the paper for giving the bizarre story a platform.
The Sun is literally demonising a child on its front page. Surely that's abuse.— Angledweb (@angledweb) July 29, 2014
Back in the 1600s The Sun newspaper would have run witch trials as front page news. You just know it. pic.twitter.com/EcA4Jo7BDv— Jon FT (@freelancetheol) July 29, 2014
.@UKPCC Today's front page in The Sun is reprehensible. The editor has condemned this child to bullying and harassment. Please investigate.— Ksnmiyagi (@ksnmiyagi) July 29, 2014
I can't help thinking that being on the front page of The Sun is far more shameful than having the "mark of devil" on your chest.— Ian Power (@IHPower) July 29, 2014
The Sun's front page. Because we do live in 1666 and witches definitely exist pic.twitter.com/tVwGw04ioA— Felicity Morse (@FelicityMorse) July 29, 2014
The Sun's front page is a farce. Boy has mark of the Devil? Except the mark has now faded away. And this isn't the Middle Ages.— Adam Parsons (@AdamParsons1) July 29, 2014
Front page of the Sun today. Completely irresponsible journalism. Please boycott. Poor child.— Laura Quinton Maryon (@quintonmaryon) July 29, 2014
Dear The Sun,
I woke up and found this MARK OF SATAN on my arm. Any chance of a front page?
Your pal etc, pic.twitter.com/e1If2g3vrX— Alistair Coleman (@scaryduck) July 29, 2014
If you read The Sun devil child front page backwards at stroke of midnight the guy from Judas Priest will appear in the mirror.— Gerry Braiden (@GerryBraiden) July 28, 2014