Insiders at The Sun fear the newspaper could face a backlash over “rushing into print” its initial Huw Edwards story.
A former Sun editor said the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper was in “crisis” after back-tracking on its initial report which suggested that the BBC presenter had paid a 17 year-old for explicit photos, potentially a criminal offence.
A subsequent Sun report said the presenter “could face years in prison”.
Police found no evidence to support the allegation, which triggered Edwards’s suspension from the BBC and a bout of severe depression requiring in-hospital treatment.
The paper altered its language in later stories to claim that contact with the presenter – rather than any payment – began when the youngster, now 20, was seventeen.
One insider said: “The story from the parents of the child came in on Wednesday, calls were made to the BBC and it was ready to run on Friday. We were surprised at the speed of it.”
The Sun ran its story despite receiving a denial from the young person at the centre of the claims of any inappropriate conduct.
“Maybe it was rushed to print – could more time have been taken to establish exactly what the Sun was alleging and make sure all the evidence was available?” the insider asked.
News UK, publishers of The Sun, declined to comment on the timing of the story.
The paper was confident in its story since it had signed affidavits from the family and evidence before publication, i understands.
However former Sun editor David Yelland wrote on Twitter: “The Sun inflicted terror on Huw despite no evidence of any criminal offence. This is no longer a BBC crisis, it is a crisis for the paper. Huw’s privacy must now be respected.”
Edwards’ Twitter account this week “liked” a story that suggested the Sun could “face the mother of all libel actions”.
Press regulator Ipso said it had received “around 80 complaints which we are assessing” about The Sun’s coverage.
An Ipso spokesperson said: “We are watching the developments carefully. In all reporting, IPSO-regulated publications must take into account the standards they have agreed to abide by as set down in the Editors’ Code of Practice.”
The insider said: “The story now looks like a typical sex scandal. There are fears this could give ammunition to Hacked Off and off people who want to rein in The Sun and tabloid papers.”
There even appeared to be a crack in the united front News UK usually presents. A source said that it was sister paper The Sunday Times which had first suggested there could be a criminal inquiry.
A News UK spokesperson said: “The Sun at no point in our original story alleged criminality and also took the decision neither to name Mr Edwards nor the young person involved in the allegations.”
“Suggestions about possible criminality were first made at a later date by other media outlets, including the BBC.”
The Sun’s top team, including editor Victoria Newton, were determined to ensure there was a “public interest” to the story, so that it did not appear to be a gratuitous expose of a celebrity’s private life, i understands.
The Sun stands by its reporting which it said was “about two very concerned and frustrated parents who made a complaint to the BBC about the behaviour of a presenter and payments from him that fuelled the drug habit of a young person.”
“We reported that the parents had already been to the police who said that they couldn’t help. The parents then made a complaint to the BBC which was not acted upon.”
The Sun claims to have further allegations about Edwards’s alleged conduct made by BBC staff, which it will not now publish, given his illness. The paper noted that the BBC itself considers it to be in the public interest to report similar allegations it has obtained.
The Sun will give evidence supporting its published and unpublished stories, including an alleged trip out of London made by Edwards during lockdown to visit a younger person he met on a dating app, to the BBC for its investigation.
A Labour source said: “It’s right that press is held to the highest standards and are accountable for their reporting.”
Labour is already on a collision course with Mr Murdoch and other newspaper publishers after saying it opposes the repeal of a rule designed to force news publishers to sign up to the government-backed regulator.