Page 3 has returned to The Sun. The long-running feature in Rupert Murdoch's tabloid made an unexpected comeback in Thursday's edition as a "clarification and correction".
The reprieve for the section, in which a woman is pictured topless, was heralded under the headline “We’ve had a mammary lapse,” ending a week of speculation suggesting the controversial segment had ended after 44 years.
The correction read: "Further to recent reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is a picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth. We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us."
The No To Page 3 campaign group, who had all but declared victory in their battle to have the feature axed, said the "fight might be back on". Writing on their Facebook page they said: Thanks to The Sun for all the publicity they've given the campaign."
Former Page 3 pin-up turned bodybuilder Jodie Marsh, 36 last night said she was "happy" that the feature had seemingly been reinstated. Writing on Twitter to the No More Page 3 group she said: "may I humbly suggest that you now put your time & effort into something that actually matters like campaigning against FGM..."
In recent days, it was reported the newspaper quietly dropped pictures of topless women, with Monday's edition featuring Hollyoaks actresses Jennifer Metcalfe and Gemma Merna running along a Dubai beach in their bikinis. Readers were advised to go online to see "Page 3 Lucy from London".
Page 3 pin-ups were introduced by the newspaper in 1970, less than a year after Murdoch bought the title. Another Murdoch organ, The Times, reported on Tuesday that last Friday’s edition of the paper was be the last to feature “an image of a glamour model with bare breasts on that page”. However, The Sun refused to comment.
On Monday, The Sun's head of PR, Dylan Sharpe, tweeted a cryptic message that added to confusion over whether a change had been made. Sharpe later told the Press Association: "It is all just speculation, it is all wild speculation."
Asked why the feature did not appear in the newspaper on Monday, Sharpe said: "The Sun occasionally drops it."
Former Sun editor Dominic Mohan described the topless pictures as an "innocuous British institution" but critics, led by the No More Page 3 group, said they are they are demeaning to women when placed in a newspaper alongside news.
Murdoch signalled last year that he was considering dropping the feature. He asked his Twitter followers: ''Aren't beautiful young women more attractive in at least some fashionable clothes?'' He went on: ''Brit feminists bang on forever about Page 3. I bet never buy paper. I think old fashioned but readers seem to disagree.''
Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman on Monday welcomed reports that the photos have been ditched, and said it would mean the Sun is "moving into the 21st century". Harman, a vocal critic of Page 3, told LBC the move would mean that the Sun is "moving into the 21st century".
She said: "We do think that, in a newspaper that is about news, the idea of a girl standing there in her knickers with some sort of pseudo political quote really is not the representation of women's role in this country that I want to see." The Labour MP said that while she has "always been against Page 3", she would not support a Government- imposed ban on the feature.
And she added that if the reported demise of Page 3 in the tabloid is correct, "it won't be quiet - we will be making sure it is not quiet".
Labour MP Stella Creasy, who has campaigned against Page 3, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I know people kept saying 'Turn the page, don't look at it if you don't want to see it' - it missed the point that it was having an impact on our society.
"The sexualisation, the objectification of women in this way was basically saying to all of us that what mattered, frankly, were our breasts not our brains. Challenging that and saying the impact of just letting this stuff lie, of saying that somehow it's some great British institution like James Bond and moaning about the weather, that's not the world we wanted to live in any more."