More than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to take action against The Sun for "starting a witch hunt against a 4-year-old boy."
Britain’s top-selling newspaper faced a furious backlash Tuesday for running a story featuring a little boy seemingly with the “mark of the devil.”
The exclusive story entitled "BOY, 4, HAS MARK OF DEVIL", was fiercely ridiculed on Twitter and blasted by MPs, who likened the "irresponsible" journalism to child abuse.
The PCC confirmed to the Huffington Post UK that they had received complaints about the article.
At the time of publishing, the campaign for the PCC to take action against the paper for causing "emotional child abuse" has been signed by over 5,000 people.
The campaign queries: "This 4 year old child is shown, named, along with his parents and home town. What long-term effects is this likely to have on the child?"
Among the reasons given for signing up, petitioners said: "This paper should have been shut down a long time ago."
Another person commented: "This is the kind of thing they used to print in 'The Sport', but everyone knew that was a joke newspaper. I'm not sure everyone knows "The sun" is also a joke newspaper."
Critics yesterday commented that the story could endanger the child if anyone were to believe he was actually marked by the devil - as happened with eight-year-old Victoria Climbié who was tragically killed by her guardians who believed she was possessed by demons.
As The New Statesman's Media Mole queried: "Should we really be encouraging the idea that children can have devil's marks, even as a silly season joke?"
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."
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
"A sinister Satan sign that mysteriously appeared on a four-year-old boy is proving a devil to explain," the story started, accompanied by a picture of the boy, and his stony-faced mother.
The boy's mother revealed her horror that her young child was 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 said they were "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 boy's 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 sci-fi films, it isn't supposed to happen to families like us," she said.
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