The Craig Thomson saga took a dramatic twist last night with a former prostitute recanting her claims that she had sex with Mr Thomson at the time he was a union official.
Wearing a wig and glasses, the woman appeared on Channel Seven's Today Tonight to repeatedly apologise to Mr Thompson and his family for formerly claiming she had sex with him in 2005 while working as an escort at The Boardroom, an escort agency in Sydney.
''I feel absolutely terrible for Craig Thomson and his family,'' she said.
Last month rival program Channel Nine's A Current Affair advised viewers the former sex worker had signed a sworn statement claiming she had sex with Mr Thomson, who was general secretary of the Health Services Union at the time.
The woman said last night she had been tracked down by ACA reporter Justin Armsden who ''flashed'' a picture of Craig Thomson at her. She agreed he looked ''vaguely familiar''. But the woman said that after checking her passport she concluded she was in New Zealand at the time the alleged incident occurred.
She said she was ''furious'' when ACA allegedly ignored her claims that she was mistaken and on May 24 aired claims that she had slept with the embattled MP, who is the subject of a police investigation into his alleged use of union funds to pay for escorts.
''Once [reporter Justin Armsden] aired it, I felt really screwed over.''
But Channel Nine hit back at the woman's version of events. In a statement issued last night, ACA's executive producer, Grant Williams, said the woman had ''panicked' after seeing Mr Thomson's address to Parliament and had texted that she was ''no longer a credible witness''. But when contacted by Mr Armsden ''she indicated verbally that she stood by her positive identification of Thomson,'' said the statement.
Mr Williams also said it was a different prostitute who incurred a $770 transaction on Mr Thomson's union credit card on May 7, 2005. ''After consultation with Victorian Fraud and Extortion Squad detectives it became clear more than one escort associated with Boardroom Escorts was allegedly involved,'' said Mr Williams.
The former escort told the Seven Network Mr Williams contacted her in May offering to pay her $60,000 and to fly her to Sydney. She said she never accepted any money.
It was also reported last night that Victorian police had spent an hour talking to the woman at the Gold Coast yesterday.
Mr Williams said that the woman's credibility is ''obviously now seriously an issue'' and that it should be left to police to investigate.
Last night Mr Thomson told the Herald that Channel Seven's revelation ''speaks for itself''.
This morning, chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon said the tabloid treatment of Mr Thomson gave weight to proposed media reforms: "[It's] not the right path for Australia," he told ABC Radio.
"I would characterise what went to air last night as extraordinary," he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon argued that the Thomson TV saga should spur on media reforms already in the pipeline.
''[They are] the establishment of a tort of privacy and greater government regulations of the media,'' he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said MPs expected journalists to hold them to account, but said this did not necessitate tabloid tactics.
"The sort of Fleet Street approach will be rejected by the community,'' he said.