Press regulator rejects complaint by former Tory MP caught in lobbying sting

A former Conservative MP caught up in a sting by The Times in a gambling lobby scandal has had a complaint to the press regulator about the newspaper rejected.

Scott Benton, who had represented Blackpool South, was filmed by reporters offering to lobby ministers and table parliamentary questions on behalf of gambling investors.

Mr Benton complained that an article, published in April last year, breached Clause 10 of the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (Ipso) Editors’ Code, which says journalists cannot use subterfuge unless acting in the public interest.

The MP said there was no public interest in the story because it did not expose wrongdoing, and he also complained that the journalists had asked leading questions.

The Times accepted that subterfuge was used for the investigation, but said if an MP was not acting with “selflessness, integrity, accountability and openness”, the public had a right to know.

It also said that the journalists’ line of questioning was “reasonable and in line with the public interest served”.

Ipso said The Times had been investigating previous lobbying scandals and concerns that the gambling industry appeared to be gaining more influence in Westminster, with Mr Benton’s name allegedly mentioned by sources.

The regulator did not uphold his complaint, saying: “Given that the investigation had the potential to expose an MP – an individual who represents the interests of the public – breaching parliamentary rules, there was a clear public interest in seeking to verify the claims made by sources.

“The Public Interest portion of the Editors’ Code explicitly references exposing serious impropriety, and raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.”

Mr Benton was caught on camera telling undercover reporters posing as investors that he was willing to take actions which would break Parliament’s lobbying rules.

Earlier this year, he had the Tory whip withdrawn and, after an investigation by parliamentary authorities, was suspended from the Commons for 35 days.

This triggered a recall petition in his constituency, but Mr Benton resigned before the result of this came in.

Labour’s Chris Webb became the constituency’s MP on May 3.