More than 1,000 people complained to the Press Complaints Commission yesterday after an article in the Daily Mail newspaper that apparently linked the Boyzone singer's death to his homosexuality.
Columnist Jan Moir argued that the death of Gately, who was in a gay marriage, struck "another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships".
In spite of a coroner's verdict that he had died of natural causes, following a build-up of fluid on his lungs, Moir wrote: "Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one."
Respondents to the Mail's website voiced outrage. One condemned the article as an "odious piece of vile trash"; another said "You should be ashamed of yourself Jan Moir"; "an absolutely revolting article", said another. A minority of correspondents voiced support for Moir's work.
The subject electrified the instant messaging website Twitter, where calls were made for Moir to be sacked, and the social networking site Facebook where a group was founded to plot a boycott on advertising in the Daily Mail.
In an unusual step, Moir yesterday afternoon released a statement explaining and defending her article. She said it was "never my intention" to upset people "particularly in the gay community", but was otherwise largely unapologetic.
She claimed that the scale of the protests was a result of an organised campaign and that it was wrong to accuse her of being prejudiced against gays. "In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones," she said.
In her Mail article, Moir had criticised Gately and his partner Andrew Cowles for inviting a Bulgarian man back to their apartment in Palma, Majorca. "If we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy."
Later in her statement, the journalist seemed unrepentant for the comments. "It seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately's death – out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger – did not have a bearing on his death."
Gately's funeral takes place today in Dublin attended by his former colleagues in Boyzone Ronan Keating, Shane Lynch, Keith Duffy and Mikey Graham.
A spokesman for the PCC, the press watchdog, said last night that it was in contact with a Boyzone representative and that if members of Gately's family wished to make a complaint over the Mail article that would take precedence over complaints made by third parties.
In respect of Moir's claim of an "orchestrated internet campaign" against her, he acknowledged that there had been "a concerted number of complaints in a relatively short time".
The offending article: Moir's words
*"Fans know to expect the unexpected of their heroes, particularly if those idols live a life that is shadowed by dark appetites or fractured by private vice."
*"The Gately family are, perhaps understandably, keen to register their boy's demise on the national consciousness as nothing more than a tragic accident."
*"Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this."
*"If we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy."
*"Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships."
*"The recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened."
*"For once again, under the carapace of glittering hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see."