PinkNews.co.uk has been told by solicitors representing Philippa Stroud that a number of media organisations have been contacted warning them of their duties not to publish “false” allegations about a parliamentary candidate in the run-up to tomorrow’s general election.
Mrs Stroud, the Conservative candidate for Sutton and Cheam, was accused in The Observer of having founded two churches that helped people who believed their homosexuality was caused by demonic possession and that it could be overcome through prayer.
The newspaper quoted testimony from a number of people who had claimed they had been helped by the churches and one person who worked for one of the churches.
On Sunday, PinkNews.co.uk contacted Mrs Stroud to ascertain if she rejected the claims.
In a a statement she said: “I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that The Observer has suggested otherwise.”
When PinkNews.co.uk pointed out to her spokesman that The Observer’s prime claim was not that she believed homosexuality to be an illness and that instead, it was that she appeared to believe it could be overcome through prayer and removing “demons”, a spokesman said: “We will not be adding to or subtracting to [sic] the statement.”
The statement continued: “I have spent more than 20 years working with disturbed people who society have turned their back on and who are often not helped by state agencies. Drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill and the homeless are just some of the people that I and my friends in the charitable sector have tried to help over the years.
“The idea that I am prejudiced against gay people is both false and insulting.”
John Rubinstein, of law firm Rubinstein Phillips, is representing Mrs Stroud and confirmed that the company has contacted a number of media outlets reminding them of their duty under Section 106 of the Representation of the Peoples’ Act.
This makes it illegal to publish any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct, unless the publication can show that they had reasonable grounds for believing that statement to be true.
When PinkNews.co.uk asked why it had not been contacted, as it was of the few media outlets that reported The Observer’s claims, her lawyer said it did not dispute PinkNews.co.uk’s right to cover the issue.
He therefore would not send PinkNews.co.uk a copy of the letter, although he confirmed that Mrs Stroud’s response has not changed: that she says she is not homophobic nor believes that homosexuality is an illness.
But he would not comment on whether she believed, as was claimed in The Observer, that homosexuality is caused by demonic possession, or that an organisation that she ran believed this doctrine.
PinkNews.co.uk was warned to consider the timing of The Observer’s article – just days before Mrs Stroud is to stand for office in a marginal constituency currently held by the Liberal Democrats, a party the newspaper endorsed on the same day.
The claims about Mrs Stroud date from ten years ago. She also wrote a book, God’s Heart for the Poor, in which she explains how to deal with people showing signs of “demonic activity”.
The lack of coverage by the mainstream media of this story has been highlighted on the social media platform Twitter using the #philippastroud hashtag.
PinkNews.co.uk has been contacted by individuals who have praised Mrs Stroud’s work for the poor and vulnerable over many years and most recently for her role at the Centre for Social Justice.
Yesterday, Tory leader David Cameron defended Mrs Stroud.
He told the BBC’s Asian Network: “She believes in gay equality.” and added that she had made “a very clear statement to say she was completely misreported”.