Andrew Laming has threatened to sue a publication owned by The Chaser, a media figure and a social media user for characterising an incident in which he took a photo of a woman bending over as “upskirting”.
The Liberal MP, who has engaged defamation experts Company Giles, has received an apology from news website The Shot saying: “The Shot published an article containing statements suggesting that Andrew Laming MP had taken upskirt photos. The Shot apologises for publishing these statements, which have now been withdrawn.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has already apologised for similar comments, while ABC journalist Louise Milligan has deleted a tweet of 15 April in which she listed “Laming upskirts” amid a long list of incidents involving treatment of women in public life.
At the height of the public furore about Laming’s alleged treatment of some of his constituents in March, 29-year-old Crystal White came forward accusing him of taking a photo of her while she was bent over, exposing her underwear beneath denim shorts, while she completed an office task at a Brisbane landscaping business in 2019.
On 28 March, blogger and former Labor staffer Peter Wicks posted a tweet that said “[the] upskirt pic taken by Laming is sickening enough, but it’s the grooming of the victim on Messenger afterwards that I found really disturbing”.
On Tuesday, Wicks received a concerns notice about the tweet, arguing it had defamed Laming by suggesting he takes photos of women’s underwear under their skirt without consent and manipulatively groomed the young victim.
The letter noted Wicks, who had more than 6,100 followers at the time, made no attempt to contact Laming before publishing the tweet; that police later concluded there had been no offence committed; and the complainant was not wearing a skirt or dress, she was wearing pants.
It asked Wicks to withdraw the claims, apologise, commit not to republish similar claims, and pay unspecified legal costs.
Wicks told Guardian Australia: “I don’t see any need to apologise.
“[The dispute] seems to be based around the definition of upskirting.
“I don’t think it has to be up a skirt, it’s a non-consensual photo of someone showing their underwear, like if they’re bending over and their trousers are down a bit.”
In March, Laming denied taking a photo under a woman’s skirt, claiming it was a “completely dignified” picture of a woman in her workplace “kneeling in an awkward position, and filling a fridge with an impossible amount of stock, which clearly wasn’t going to fit in the fridge”.
“That was the subject of the photograph, it was completely dignified,” he told ABC Radio.
“If it were not, there will be no sense in taking a photograph in the first place, and the point was to show a real live workplace, a humorous situation where a person was given a task that was clearly difficult. It was like a game of Tetris, trying to get the stock into a fridge.”
Wicks said he had not decided how to respond yet, but might seek pro-bono legal help from a lawyer based in Laming’s electorate of Bowman.
On Wednesday, Marque Lawyers tweeted that Laming had been “sending defamation concerns notices to tweeters for making him sad”.
“Apparently he considers that his reputation has been damaged by things people other than him have said and done,” it said.
Marque Lawyers principal Michael Bradley confirmed he is representing “a media person with a big following” who had received a notice.
On Wednesday The Shot, a news website published by The Chaser team, tweeted an apology for and withdrew statements suggesting that Laming had taken upskirt photos after receiving a concerns notice:
In a longer correction on its website, The Shot said: “We appreciate the feedback and we’ll strive to be more thorough in our future coverage on the topic of sexual assault.
“We recognise such topics require a higher level of diligence in reporting and we’d like to apologise to anyone whose experience might have been minimised by this mistake.”
Laming’s legal threats follow the defence minister, Peter Dutton, suing refugee activist Shane Bazzi over a tweet labelling him a “rape apologist” and the industry minister, Christian Porter, discontinuing his case against the ABC over an article revealing an unnamed cabinet minister had been accused of rape. Porter denies the allegation.
Bazzi is defending Dutton’s defamation case, arguing the defences of honest opinion and fair comment apply due to Dutton’s public commentary on Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation and claims by refugees and asylum seekers that they had been raped.
Laming has returned from personal leave after undertaking counselling and empathy training prompted by a string of complaints alleging online abuse against his own constituents.
Scott Morrison has previously described Laming’s online behaviour as disgraceful and the Bowman MP has been blocked from running for re-election as a Liberal.
But in May, Morrison defended Laming, saying he would continue to serve his electorate during this term of parliament.
“[Laming] has formed a view since then that the issues that were the subject of complaints made against him have now altered and there have been new facts that have come forward,” Morrison told ABC’s 7.30.
“He’s done many good things while he’s here as part of the government and I expect him to keep working hard for his electorate all the way to the next election.”
Guardian Australia contacted Laming for comment.