CURTAIN up on the employment tribunal brought by Mark Shenton, who was sacked as the Sunday Express theatre critic after nude photographs of him dating from the last century were posted on a pay-per-view gay website in what he is convinced was an act of “revenge porn” by a former partner.
Despite working for Richard Desmond, whose pornographic empire itself includes pay-per-view gay websites, Sunday Express editor Martin Townsend told Shenton that he had brought the paper into “disrepute” and dispensed with his services last December (Eye 1355). Shenton is seeking compensation for unfair dismissal.
The witness statement presented to London South Employment Tribunal a fortnight ago revealed fascinating details about his 11 years with the paper. Shenton told the court that as well as spiking bad reviews that might embarrass associates or bumping up star ratings, Townsend ordered him to interview a nine year old who was appearing in a play at the Young Vic because “he had been asked by Martin Ellice, the joint managing director at Northern & Shell [the parent company] to do the write up because he was friends with [the boy]’s father and because Martin Ellice’s daughter was in the same class at school. Despite my reservations about the merits of the piece, I felt obliged to write it because when the order comes from someone that high in the organisation, I felt as if I had no choice but to do it.”
‘Not acceptable, absolutely not’
So much for proprietor Richard Desmond’s claim during his 2009 libel action against Tom Bower that he and his executives would not dream of interfering in editorial decisions on their titles: “That’s not how it’s done… It is not acceptable, absolutely not.”
Desmond himself popped up in Shenton’s witness statement too, as the demanding recipient – along with “Martin Townsend and his friends and family and sometimes more senior staff at Express newspapers” – of free tickets to West End shows. “I recall in particular one occasion where [Townsend] had called me asking for three free tickets for Richard Desmond to see The Ladykillers in or around September 2013,” the critic continued. “When Martin called me he told me he was with ‘The Chairman’ (as Richard Desmond is always referred to internally) at the time and was relying on me to say that I could get the tickets so that he was not shown up.”
The last edition of the Sunday Times Rich List estimated Desmond’s personal wealth at £1.2bn, up £340m on the previous year. “At no other publication was I asked to provide staff with free tickets for productions, nor would I have felt under an obligation to comply with any such requests,” Shenton told the tribunal.
Express Newspapers denies all Shenton’s allegations. The judge is expected to give his verdict within weeks.