By Chris York
The Telegraph and Mail on Sunday have prompted a fierce backlash after both published articles detailing the private lives of the couple who recorded a row between Boris Johnson and his partner last week.
Tom Penn has said he recorded the altercation within his own home and “after a loud scream and banging” agreed with his wife that they should check on their neighbours.
He add: “I knocked three times at their front door, but there was no response. I went back upstairs into my flat, and we agreed that we should call the police.”
After the police told Penn all was well, he then passed the recording to The Guardian.
The Mail on Sunday subsequently published an article describing Penn and his wife as a “Remainer couple” who had tried to “sink Boris”.
Revealed: The Remainer couple who called police on Boris Johnson after are a millionaire’s daughter, who got Brussels funding for pro-EU theatre festival, and her remainer playwright partner: https://t.co/IgIpHAZsCG
— MoS_Politics (@MoS_Politics) June 22, 2019
The Telegraph article described the “left-wing couple” who “admitted” taping the altercation and a columnist for the paper said in a tweet “we really need to name and shame the Boris neighbours”.
We really need to name and shame the #Boris neighbours. Maybe record their blameless, unshouty lives and give the tape to a national newspaper. Anyone know who they are?
— Allison Pearson (@allisonpearson) June 21, 2019
A genuinely quite disturbing front page. pic.twitter.com/QpvXnYLlE7
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) June 23, 2019
The coverage sparked a fierce debate on social media with many accusing the papers of discouraging people from contacting police when they think someone’s welfare is in danger.
Lesson: ring the cops out of concern for a woman’s welfare in 2019, end up on the front of the MoS.
— Jennifer Williams (@JenWilliamsMEN) June 22, 2019
Them being left wing doesn’t magically alter the recording they took you fucking tools. This is the weakest attempt at discrediting someone I’ve ever seen.
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) June 22, 2019
this is such an unbelievably shitty thing to do. delete yourselves.
— Zoe Gardner (@ZoeJardiniere) June 23, 2019
Labour MP Jess Phillips accused the journalists behind the story of “rank hypocrisy”.
Every single journalist saying that the neighbours shouldn’t have released the story should know that their publication has at some time or another called me and asked for information on abusive MPs. It is rank hypocrisy
— Jess Phillips (@jessphillips) June 23, 2019
Tory MP James Cleverly also expressed concern that Penn had passed the recording to The Guardian, saying that was the “big element”, not the actual row itself.
The big element in the Boris story isn’t that there was a heated argument, it’s that the police were called.
The police were called by the same person who recorded Boris and gave the story to the Guardian.
— James Cleverly MP (@JamesCleverly) June 22, 2019
This also provoked outrage from commentators and at least one lawyer.
This is the worst take I’ve ever seen.
Please, if you hear loud arguing, banging & fear someone could be in physical danger, call the police. Every time.
That a minister in the government is telling people they should just leave people to it in those circumstances is abhorrent
— Josh Woolcott (@joshwoolcott) June 22, 2019
I’ve lost count of the number of domestic violence cases I’ve successfully prosecuted which only came to the police attention because of the actions of concerned neighbours. These people are literal life-savers. For MPs to discourage this for political point scoring is shameful. pic.twitter.com/SnZh9gvADu
— The Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret) June 22, 2019
It’s been a rough few days for the Tory leadership hopeful who has refused to answer questions about the incident.
On Sunday it also came to light that previous denials he has no links with controversial far-right figure Steve Bannon have been thrown into doubt, after video emerged of the latter detailing their close relationship.