Robert Peston has blasted claims media editors held on to news of John Whittingdale's relationship with a sex worker for leverage over him, calling it a "conspiracy" and "nuts".
The ITV political editor said that after a thirty-year career in reporting he knew "journalists can't keep a secret" and rubbished those who suggested four newspapers held on to the story to "have a hold" on the culture secretary.
Peston pointed to Labour's Tom Watson - now deputy leader of the party - whom the Sunday People asked for advice on whether to print the story.
Then a colleague of Whittingdale's on the select committee, Watson recommended spiking the piece because, as the Tory MP was a single man, there was no public interest angle.
"So a prominent MP who presumably would feel that embarrassing Mr Whittingdale was in his party's interest cautioned against publication and there is the rub," Peston said in a post on Facebook.
He added: "Downing Street tells me Mr Whittingdale's omission isn't a sacking offence. But there is a strong sense of irritation that the PM was not kept in the picture (and not just because, as I've witnessed on a few occasions, he too likes a juice nugget of gossip)."
It comes after 'Hacked Off' executive director and former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris was taken to task by Andrew Neil over allegations Whittingdale eased off on press regulation to appease editors and keep the story of his relationship a secret.
The BBC presenter repeatedly asked what evidence there was to suggest Whittingdale had effectively blocked the second part of the Leveson Inquiry to please newspapers, and prevent them printing details about his private life that surfaced late last night.
But Harris failed four times to provide proof for the claims, and eventually admitted he might be wrong.
In a statement issued today Whittingdale insisted he had not been influenced in his role as culture secretary by newspapers’ knowledge of the dominatrix, known as ‘Mistress Kate’.
“Between August 2013 and February 2014, I had a relationship with someone who I first met through Match.com. She was a similar age and lived close to me,” he said.
“At no time did she give me any indication of her real occupation and I only discovered this when I was made aware that someone was trying to sell a story about me to tabloid newspapers. As soon as I discovered, I ended the relationship.
“This is an old story which was a bit embarrassing at the time. The events occurred long before I took up my present position and it has never had any influence on the decisions I have made as Culture Secretary.”
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