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Regional editor attacked by senior Tories for following up story tip

Senior Tories – including a former minister – have accused a regional daily’s editor of “deeply irresponsible journalism” for deciding to investigate a potential story.

Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson has hit back at MP Simon Clarke and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen after they publicly criticised him for following up a tip-off he received on Twitter.

James had appealed via Twitter for readers to provide verification of photographs purportedly showing thousands of mussels and other dead sea creatures washed up on the coastline between the towns of Redcar and Marske.

But his appeal prompted Mr Clarke – a Cabinet minister under Boris Johnsonto accuse him of “deeply irresponsible journalism” before the Post had even published anything about the issue, while Mr Houchen further accused James of reporting “guff”.

James Mitchinson with Boris Johnson during a visit by the former Prime Minister to the Post's office

James Mitchinson with Boris Johnson during a visit by the former Prime Minister to the Post’s office

James had initially questioned whether the mussels on the beach were “something of concern” and subsequently posted: “We’re trying to arrange cover for this but if you’re in Saltburn or on the North-East coast now and can capture this in stills and video, it will help us to build a case.”

In response, Mr Clarke wrote: “This is deeply irresponsible journalism from the Yorkshire Post – ignoring the findings of independent scientists and fuelling a conspiracy narrative.

“I know James Mitchinson makes no secret he hates Conservatives, but even by his standards this is bad.”

Mr Clarke’s tweet was subsequently liked by the official Conservative Party account, as well as MPs Mark Jenkinson and Craig Whittaker and Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies.

Responding to James’ initial tweet, Mr Houchen said most of what had been washed up on the beach was “coal deposits.”

“The mussels and the few razor clams are empty and so clearly old and the starfish on the beach are alive… it’s almost like there’s been rough seas and a small amount of sea life is now on the beach, again mostly alive,” he wrote.

After James told him “I’d rather not take your word for it”, Mr Houchen wrote: “Literally don’t need to take my word for it given the pictures, scientific reporting, environment agency investigations, Patrick Vallance report delivered by world-leading marine biologists.

“Just expect factual reporting rather than your usual guff.”

Speaking to HTFP, James said: “I am genuinely perplexed by Mr Houchen and Mr Clarke’s responses. I am very used to being insulted by people who would rather we didn’t run a story, but I think it is a shame when people elected to represent others in public office resort to insults, as Mr Houchen did today.

“It cheapens that office, and adds more fuel to the toxicity that surrounds those who try to represent people in the right way.

“As for Mr Clarke, I am reluctant to add further comment. People will see for themselves that he has accused me of ‘deeply irresponsible journalism’ for simply agreeing to take a look at something I was alerted to by concerned members of the North-East communities.

“If good local journalism is nothing else, it is there to respond as I did this morning when called upon by worried individuals.”

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Mr Clarke has served in government as Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

He was previously among several Tory MPs to attack the Post in 2021 over an accurate story the Leeds-based daily had published revealing supplies of the coronavirus vaccine could be diverted from its patch to regions that had failed to vaccinate as many people.

He also attacked the Northern Echo last year over its coverage of Sue Gray’s report into lockdown breaches at 10 Downing Street.

HTFP has approached both Mr Clarke and Mr Houchen for further comment.