Inside Croydon

‘Bogus Ben’ and freesheet’s lead story prompt complaints


Sutton reporter BELLE MONT on how a LibDem election candidate has been caught out trying to take credit for a community campaign

Last week’s Sutton Grauniad lead news story, now subject of a formal complaint to IPSO

Sutton’s polluting, thieving and cage-fighting LibDem councillors and ex-councillors, despite having been caught out trying to use tax-payers’ money for campaigning on the rates ahead of May’s local elections, have now been accused of hijacking a community campaign – and all with the willing help of the local freesheet.

The reproduction, almost word-for-word, of LibDem MP Tom Brake’s press release, passed-off as a lead news story in last week’s edition, has led to a formal complaint to the independent press standards organisation over the conduct of the Sutton Guardian.

Last week’s news-lite Sutton Grauniad featured a front-page all about the bogus “Sutton’s Future Campaign”. Dressed up to look like an objective piece of journalism, this was in fact an advertisement, paid-for out of public money by Sutton Council.

Trade estimates suggest this will have cost the Council Tax-payers of Sutton at least £2,000. And it will have saved Sutton LibDems an equivalent amount in campaign funds.

To make matters worse, neither the advertisers – Sutton Council – nor the publishers did the decent thing and included the word “Advertisement” on this paid-for piece of propaganda.

This all appeared under a masthead that boasts, “Delivering your trusted local news”. Seriously.

This is not a news story. This is a paid-for advertisement, using council money for a bogus campaign

It is widely suggested that the advert will have been booked by council officials as part of a campaign ordered by LibDem council leader Ruth Dombey.

It seems likely that the full-page ad was placed before Dombey and the LibDems were forced into an embarrassing climbdown amid allegations of gerrymandering – accused by political rivals of using public resources for party political campaigning ahead of the May 3 elections.

The Sutton Grauniad operates from an office in Sutton, sharing staff with sister title, the Croydon Guardian. The titles are owned by Newsquest, which generates millions of pounds in profits annually, much of the income from publishing official notices for local authorities, councils such as Sutton and Croydon, who are obliged by law to take out advertising space.

In Sutton last week, the skeleton staff which throws together the Grauniad chose to reproduce, virtually unaltered, a press release from Brake, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, which claimed credit for improved commuter rail services with more trains from Hackbridge.

This included using a picture of photo-op junkie Brake together with wannabe Sutton LibDem councillor Ben Andrew.

The “news” story was quickly criticised by political rivals, Labour and Tories alike, who pointed out that claims in the press release were untrue and described it as Fake News.

They also criticised the newspaper’s journalistic principles, in carrying almost verbatim an inaccurate LibDem press release as their lead story in a week when they had also been paid thousands of pounds by the council for the front-page advert.

No one was answering the phones at Sutton Grauniad Towers when we called them today.

The matter has created further embarrassment for over-keen Andrew, who on the morning of the publication was quick to revel in his new-found fame.

“Glad my picture is on the front page of the Sutton Guardian for a good news story,” Andrew tweeted to his 1,266 followers.

Ben Andrew virtue-signalling and claiming credit for a campaign in which he, and the LibDems, played little or no part

Andrew, who is employed as a communications “expert”, then tagged Brake and Sutton LibDems “for a successful campaign for Wandle Valley!” before adding the ubiquitous FibDem hashtag of “winninghere”.

It was not long before Andrew was having to back-track for trying to take the credit for a community campaign.

“I didn’t even know who you were until you tried to steal credit for this. Shame on you!” one Twitterer, Sara Rainwater-Lane, responded to him.

Asked directly what campaigning he, or Brake, had done to improve the Hackbridge rail services, Andrew refused to say.

But called out on his attempt to claim the credit for the hard work of others outside the Sutton Liberal Democrats, Andrew started issuing a string of social media mea culpas, including, “I do not claim any personal credit for this campaign!” He posted this within a couple of hours of claiming personal credit for the campaign.

“The photo of me and Tom was not taken specifically for this story, and the article in the paper doesn’t mention me. My tweet was just me smiling to see myself in a picture on the front of the paper with Tom.” Ahhh. How sweet.

It did nothing to assuage the anger of those who had genuinely been involved in lobbying Southern for improved rail services.

“Typically appalling political tricks,” said one.

“So angry that that dude tried to take the credit,” said another.

And the campaign organiser, who uses the social media handle of “Nikki Noodle”, thanked her supporters for “holding those who wish to mislead to account”.

She wrote, “The Sutton Guardian are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation and I have sent a formal complaint referring to ‘accuracy’ requesting a number of editorial corrections/clarifications to the article as well as front-page publication and the removal of the photo – I do not recognise the bearded man in the photo as a contributor to the campaign.” That’s a reference to LibDem local election candidate Andrew.

“I’ve asked Sutton Guardian to stop letting the community-led campaign be portrayed as a party political platform. One councillor as part of the public transport liaison group and Tom Brake did have a limited roles in a way any MP or councillor should (do their job) but it is obvious from his press release this week and the near-identical article (both factually incorrect on the basic trains per hour) that our campaign is being used as platform ahead of the local election. This was confirmed by the celebration on Twitter today.

“They should be challenged for showing a complete lack of respect for local people trying to improve their community.”

The campaigner added that she is continuing to work on a final phase of an application to the train operators for improved services.

For “Bogus Ben” Andrew, his problems may not yet be over.

Although he is a LibDem candidate for Wandle Valley ward in Sutton (hence the virtue-signalling over someone else’s train campaign), according to his own social media profiles, he says he lives in Claygate. Which is not in Sutton. It could mean that Andrew is ineligible to stand in the local elections in that borough.

The deadlines for nominations of candidates is in a couple of weeks’ time. If Andrew’s name appears on the Sutton lists, he and the LibDems in Sutton will have some more explaining to do.