The leading theatre critic at the Sunday Express has claimed that he was sacked as the paper claimed he brought it into “disrepute” when naked photos of him two decades old were discovered online.

Mark Shenton, who was employed by the paper for eleven years said his photographs were not illegal, and were taken private, in refuting the alleged reasons for his dismissal.

Suggesting that he was only sacked because the website in question was gay, and noting Tom Daley’s coming out earlier this week, he went on to claim that Martin Townsend, the editor of the Express, said the pictures were “embarrassing”.

The 51-year-old wrote said: “My sexuality is public knowledge and by revealing this information freely as I’m doing now, it is clear that I do not agree.”

Writing on his blog to announce his dismissal, he continued: “The paper had been tipped off by a malicious third party that there were some private, personal (but entirely legal) images of me available on a gay website.

“I’d never seen or heard of the site myself so it was news to me, but yes, the thumbnail picture I was shown by the head of human resources was indeed of me.”

Saying that someone could have only gained access to the photo if they had paid for the site, he said: “I had not posted it, but remembered it being taken, by my reckoning, by a friend in San Francisco I have long lost touch with some 22 years ago – long before I either worked for the paper or the internet had come of age, so I never expected them to turn up on a website that didn’t exist then.”

Referring to the paper’s owner, Richard Desmond, he said: “It is truly ironic that I should be fired by an organisation run by a pornographer.

“It is rank hypocrisy to sack me over this,” he continued.

Referring to the fact that the Express is owned by a company which also operates an adult TV channel, he said: “It could be said that the only difference is that these are straight magazines and channels, whereas mine was defined as a gay one.”

His dismissal has been met with controversy online, with many followers tweeting their support and outrage to Mr Shenton.