Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten has spoken of his public outing at the hands of a tabloid newspaper.

In an interview with Press Gazette, he said that the News of the World, which broke the story of his use of male prostitutes, had known of his activities for around three years but had chosen to wait until he was more famous to report on them.

Oaten was forced to abandon his attempt to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2006 after relevations about his private life were made public in the newspaper. He was married at the time of the exposé.

He said: “They had my story for three years I think, but hung on to it and never did anything with it. They could have made that public interest argument at any point in the three years.

“I had always been a Member of Parliament, but they waited until it could sell most newspapers, at the point at which I became well-known and at my most famous.”

He added: “I just want them to be more upfront and honest and say ‘yep,’ we’re doing it to sell newspapers. I would have no problem if they actually admitted that it’s not in the public interest.

“What annoys me is when they essentially expose people’s private lives and pretend they’re doing society a great service.”

Although he called for a free press to “expose corruption, hypocrisy and fraud”, he said that “checks and balances” were necessary to protect individuals.

“I would have liked the chance to have not had journalists turn up on my doorstep and break the story that way. I would have liked a period of a few days to talk to them, to understand it and to prepare myself for what was going to hit me,” he said.

In response to Oaten’s claims, a News of the World spokesman rejected the suggestion journalists had sat on the story for three years.

The spokesman said: “The allegations were proven true and the story was published in that Sunday’s News of the World on pages 8 and 9. Mr Oaten is correct that we are indeed in the business of selling papers, however we chose not to print details of his grubby activities on the front page of a family newspaper.

“With that in mind, perhaps it is the married MP who paid rent boys for kinky sex who should consider a more ‘upfront and honest’ approach.”

After details of his dalliances with rent boys became public, Oaten said male pattern baldness and a mid-life crisis had contributed to his extra-marital activities.

Mr Oaten has said that he will stand down as an MP at the next election.