One of Britain’s top left-wing tabloids has been rocked by the resignation of a senior editor who is alleged to have repeatedly groped a female staff member during a post-work event at a London pub.
Five sources told BuzzFeed News that staffers were informed of the sudden resignation of the Sunday tabloid’s deputy editor, Nick Owens, during a bizarre and impromptu Friday staff meeting in July conducted by the editor of the Mirror’s sister newspaper, the Daily Express.
Express editor Gary Jones went into the Sunday Mirror’s offices on July 5 and called a meeting of the newspaper’s staff.
“We walked into the office and Gary just came out with, ‘Nick’s gone. There was an incident involving drink and a female member of staff’,” a source in the meeting told BuzzFeed News.
“Nick’s been very good for the company and it’s very unfortunate what’s happened,” Jones continued, according to the source.
Jones’ comments startled those present, who believed the way the newspaper executive was describing the circumstances around the exit was minimising the seriousness of the situation. Multiple Mirror sources have told BuzzFeed News that Jones and Owens are old friends.
“Gary was making it out like it was all just a real shame for Nick and the newspaper.”
The circumstances involving Owens have become widely known as “the incident” at the Mirror’s offices in recent weeks. It has led to staff asking questions about how management has dealt with the situation and also reflecting on the “boozy culture” at the Mirror.
“At the Mirror, there’s a leftover Stone Age mentality,” one source said. “It’s such a dirty old boys’ club sometimes that being pissed was seen as a defence.
According to five sources familiar with the so-called incident, it occurred during a Mirror team outing to the pub. The meeting was referred to as a “think tank”. Owens had been at a lunch with another editor before attending the post-work event.
It’s alleged that Owens touched and groped one of the female journalists multiple times.
In the following days, Owens is alleged to have repeatedly called the woman while also sending texts and emails to her, according to a source. It’s not known what he was aiming to do with the attempts to contact her, but the same source said he had offered the woman a new job reporting to him.
“She saw this, on top of what she had to go through, as harassment,” the source said.
The following week, Owens didn’t attend work. According to several sources, he was given the option to resign or face being sacked. Days later, he resigned.
It has apparently not gone down well with staff. According to a Mirror source, Owens received an exit package which included three months of salary.
One reporter told BuzzFeed News: “There is a general sense of, ‘Wait, why have they let him resign and getting a payout? Why hasn’t he had his employment terminated?’”
There was one more element to the Sunday Mirror meeting where Owens’ resignation was announced that added to the sense of bewilderment among the staff about how the situation was being handled.
Lloyd Embley — editor-in-chief of the combined Sunday Mirror and Daily Mirror titles at Reach PLC — and Sunday Mirror editor Peter Willis were not aware of Jones’ decision to brief the staff.
When Embley found out what was happening, according to a source in the meeting, he approached the office, stood outside, and then started banging on the glass to get Jones’ attention.
“Lloyd broke up the meeting and he looked furious,” the source said. “Jones then was called into his office and got a bollocking.”
A Sunday Mirror spokesperson released a statement to BuzzFeed News that claimed the company was taking the matter “seriously” and that it had acted “swiftly”.
“While we can't comment on the details of the investigation for confidentiality reasons and for the privacy of the people concerned, we cannot stress enough how seriously we take this.
“Our primary responsibility is to provide a safe environment for our staff, and we have been working closely with a colleague who has come to us for support. We are confident that we have acted swiftly and sensitively to resolve this.”
For the Mirror, the resignation has come at the end of the latest attempts by staff to get management to come to terms with culture problems involving senior men and junior women in the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror newsrooms.
When Alison Phillips was named editor of the Daily Mirror in 2016, several sources who spoke to BuzzFeed News said there was a hope that having a woman in the role would start turning things around.
One example was the way the Mirror mobilised after the election of Donald Trump at the beginning of 2017. In what now appears a dark moment of irony, Mirror staff attended the anti-Trump Women’s March in London, where they held placards reading “Hope Not Grope”, with the company’s logo affixed.
“There was a lot of pressure on senior women to turn the culture around,” one veteran reporter told BuzzFeed News. “There’s been some good things as well, but perhaps too much has been shouldered on Alison, you know, ‘the Woman’, sorting this out.”
A year later, Phillips launched a women’s group for the Mirror called “Women Together” amid the growing scandal around gender pay in the UK.
In the email announcing the group, the “Launch Team” — made up of Phillips, then–group marketing director Zoe Harris, editor-in-chief for Reach’s PLC South-East and Cambridge Ceri Gould, and editor-in-chief of regional websites Alison Gow — said the “ambition” was that “every female member of staff should be able to achieve their full potential while working here”.
“We hope to achieve this by changing mindsets, empowering our women staff, supporting each other, and sharing skills which might prove useful,” the email read. “We also need to step up and learn to challenge anything — said or done — which is an obstacle to women.”
A flyer was also made for the launch, which read: “Why the hell do we need a women’s network anyway?!”
“We got it in our email and it was posted around the newsroom,” one journalist said. “It wasn’t exactly the most inviting phrase staring at you from the walls.”
For more than 18 months, BuzzFeed News has been speaking to current and former Mirror staff members about some of the behaviour of male staff members towards women on the staff.
During the reporting of this story, one source said those original inquiries had sparked a conversation in the newsroom, with Mirror staff coining the term “the BuzzFeed 5”.
According to the source, “the BuzzFeed 5” were the group of men whom “reporters at your website were looking into regarding allegations of handsy/creepy behaviour”.
Nick Owens had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.