Blackwood pledges to fight on after sacking

Editor Harry Blackwood believes Peter Mandleson influenced his sacking

Harry Blackwood, sacked without compensation as editor of the Hartlepool Mail for gross misconduct, is to take the paper’s owner, Johnston Press, to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.

He is also to complain to the appropriate authorities at the House of Commons about what he believes was Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson’s part in his departure.

Blackwood had been the subject of complaints by Mandelson to Johnston and also, he alleges, from Tony Blair, on Mandelson’s behalf.

Blackwood, editor since 1999, said that a letter from Johnston’s Northeast Press managing director, Gary Fearon, detailed 25 reasons why he had been sacked. Twelve of those reasons, relating to poor editorial judgment, were linked to Mandelson or the local Labour Party as were 10 further reasons alleging poor journalism, he claimed.

Despite this, Blackwood says that Johnston had tried to distance itself from Mandelson’s complaints during its recent inquiry into his editorship.

“I am going to take this all the way,” Blackwood told Press Gazette. “The decision to sack me came as no surprise at all.

“My future is less than certain. However, I have come out of it with my integrity completely intact and that, above all else, is the most important thing I have. I do not intend to let this dominate my life.”

But he is bitter about his “appalling” treatment after his 30 years at the paper, working 50-60 hour weeks for the past 20 years, not claiming expenses and doing well over 100 public speaking engagements. “I could not have been a better ambassador for that newspaper,” he said.

Fearon arrived at the Hartlepool Mail on Monday to inform disheartened staff of the decision they had been expecting from some weeks, but they had already read about their editor’s departure in rival newspapers.

It leaves the Hartlepool Mail without an editor and a deputy editor (Neil Hunter is leaving for the paper’s chief rival, The Northern Echo). Many staff journalists are rumoured to be looking for other jobs.

In a press statement, Johnston said: “The reasons for his [Harry Blackwood’s] dismissal are private and are between Mr Blackwood and his employers, Northeast Press Limited. Mr Blackwood is entitled to appeal this decision through internal procedures.”

By Jean Morgan

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