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The Editor of The Times John Witherow faced cross-examination over alleged transgender bias in his paper’s stories and in the workplace - But he denies discrimination whilst admitting that some articles were flawed

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Byline InvestigationsByline Investigates, London
The Editor of The Times John Witherow faced cross-examination over alleged transgender bias in his paper’s stories and in the workplace - But he denies discrimination whilst admitting that some articles were flawed
Part 2 of Byline Investigates’ court report of Katherine O’Donnell v Times Newspapers. The Times is accused of alleged discrimination against a former Night Editor, who claims she was passed over for promotion. Ms. O’Donnell claims unfair dismissal because she is transgender.

* But Editor John Witherow defends his newspaper’s record of LGBT rights and reporting.

* Asked about fact-checking at The Newspaper of Record, Mr. Witherow said: “It’s just not possible to stay on top of everything."

By James Doleman For Byline Investigates 

In Part One of Byline Investigates' report of the alleged transgender discrimination case, John Witherow fiercely defended his position under cross-examination, until the court took a break.

But when proceedings resumed, Katherine O’Donnell’s counsel Robin White continued her line of questioning, presenting to the court another Times’ article, by columnist and feature writer Janice Turner, about “self-identification,” of gender.

The story contained a reference to the Soham murderer Ian Huntley, and suggested that he was transitioning his gender.

This, the lawyer said to The Editor of The Times John Witherow - who was under cross-examination - was false.

“I didn’t know that,” Mr. Witherow replied.

Asked about the reporter’s background, he said, “I don’t know anything about her,” adding, “it’s an opinion.”

Counsel then notes The Times did report a case, in which a researcher on trans issues had his thesis rejected, and then went to the High Court for judicial review.

“His case was dismissed without merit, did you know that?” counsel asked.

“We reported it,” Witherow replied.

“You didn’t report the result,” counsel retorted.

The court was then shown another Janice Turner piece, in which she stated some activists were “willing to sacrifice children.”

The witness Mr. Witherow replied, “yet again that’s Janice’s opinion.”

Asked about an article, that suggested the gender question was to be removed from the census, Mr. Witherow replied he didn’t know about the issue, so couldn’t comment.

“That’s what we do, we report people’s opinions,” he added.

The piece contained a denial from the Government that this was untrue: “Next Times headline refer to pregnant people not women government suggests to UN.”

Robin White pointed out that the Government said this was not true.

"It was a suggestion," Mr. Witherow replied.

The Editor also said the paper had, to his knowledge received no complaints about the piece.

The court was then shown a joke about transgender people by a well-known humourist.

The lawyer for the complainant asked the witness that if these things had been written about a black person, you would have sent it back.

“It probably shouldn’t have went in,” Mr Witherow replied.

The next article referred to, was one about “Trans women using the swimming pond in Hampstead Heath were driving women away.”

Counsel suggested that this was not accurate.

“That's your assertion, I don’t know if it's right or wrong,” the witness replied.

The court was then shown another article: “Transgender row over sleeper train cabins.”

The source was a post on Mumsnet, “from someone who hasn't used the sleeper,” counsel says.

“I don’t think this is the finest piece of journalism The Times has published, if I had seen it I would have spiked it.

“There is no anti-transgender bias at The Times,” Mr. Withered said.

His paper publishes 60,000 articles a year, Mr. Witherow said, and is most trusted national newspaper, though some exceptions slip through.

The Court the adjourned for lunch.

When proceedings resumed, counsel for the complainant Robin White asked about evidence from a Mr. Wills.

Mr. Witherow said that he only knew Wills “vaguely.”

The Editor says he rejected Mr. Will’s story, although has no idea what would motivate him to not tell the truth.

The lawyer asked the court about a “jokey fake front page,” referring to journalist Janice Turner.

Asked about Janice Turner, Mr. Witherow said: “She’s representing a group of people who feel worried about the trans lobby, she’s a very good journalist.”

Mr. Witherow said he would not have had much contact with the complainant Katherine O’Donnell, as she was too junior to talk regularly to The Editor.

The court was then shown a number of emails between Ms. O'Donnell and the witness.

Mr. Witherow said he was aware of her.

“As night editor, she was working on stories, yes,” placing stories [in the Scottish edition] in consultation with London.

He agreed that she was one of the most senior people at the Scottish Office of the paper.

The witness was then shown a statement from former journalist Martin Barrow.

He “reports quite an unpleasant culture doesn't he?” counsel asked.

“He is alleging it. yes,’Witherow replied.

The Editor described another part of Mr. Barrow's statement as "a complete lie, a fantasy."

Mr. Witherow said he has appointed women to a number of senior positions at The Times.

Asked why in his witness statement, about not getting any emails from the complainant - emails which have now been shown to the court – Mr. Witherow replied:

"I didn’t remember receiving any emails from Kathy, I get hundreds a day...a newspaper is a very busy place."

Asked if he remembers the being offered to write a column about trans’ issues, Mr. Witherow replied: “if she had wanted to write a column we would have published it.”

“We’re very positive about the LGBT, we have a group that meets.”

The next article shown to the court reads “High Court judge is the most senior transgender woman.”

The counsel for the complainant points out, that in the report, the judge’s “previous male name was used.”

“Mistakes are made,” Mr.Witherow replied.

He says he doesn’t know if Janice Turner’s facts about transgender issues are correct or not.

Mr. Witherow said he was “neutral” on the issue of the complainant getting the editor’s job at the Scottish Times.

He agreed that he did not “encourage” her to apply.

Counsel now moves to Facebook comments, made by the complainant about an interview The Times had with Donald Trump.

It was noted that Rupert Murdoch was in the room at the time, but this wasn't mentioned in the piece.

The lawyer suggested that this was a private forum only used by journalists, yet it had been suggested she should have been sacked for this.

Mr. Witherow said he doesn’t know the details.

On redundancy, Mr. Witherow said that sub-editing was being moved to London for “efficiency reasons, we had to make savings.”

He added: “The Irish operation is completely run out of London.”

Mr. Witherow said he completely disagrees with the suggestion that he discriminated against a trans woman.

The reason that she was not appointed Acting Editor was was that the former Scottish Editor Angus MacLeod was ill, and it was decided to appoint the political editor as his replacement, as the Scottish referendum was ongoing and they wanted a political person to cover it.

Finally, counsel asked if Mr. Witherow knew today was the international day of tolerance for gay and transgender people.

“I did know that,” Witherow replied.

“The Times hasn't covered it today?” counsel noted,

“We will tomorrow,” he replied.

Asked about fact-checking, Mr Witherow said: “It’s just not possible to stay on top of everything.”

Counsel for The Times then briefly re-examined Mr. Witherow.

He explained again he thought staying neutral on who should become Acting Editor of the Scottish Times, he believed this was the best thing to do.

He agreed that the issue of using a transgender Judge’s male name was a mistake, but this was fixed by the second edition of the paper.

Mr. Witherow is asked by Counsel for The Times why he didn't respond to an email, "sometimes you miss them," he replied.

Mr Witherow has now ended his evidence and was asked to make a statement:

"The Times is not hostile to trans groups, there are some columnists that engage with trans groups, we've offered the trans lobby the opportunity to put their case."

Mr Witherow finished his evidence and Court then adjourned.

ENDS

#John Witherow, #The Times, #Katherine O'Donnell, #Transgender

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