Bowdler: Mandelson didn't threaten me in editor row

Bowdler refutes Mandelson threat but Blackwood has “proof”

Johnston Press chief executive Tim Bowdler has “refuted absolutely” claims that Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson threatened him by saying he would try to influence the communications bill.

Harry Blackwood, editor of Johnston’s Hartlepool Mail, told The Mail on Sunday last weekend that Bowdler told him Mandelson had threatened to stand up in the Commons and make a statement that could affect Johnston in any bid to buy more newspapers.

Bowdler told Press Gazette: “I regarded nothing that Mandelson said to me as threatening in any sense. I raised the communications bill. I talk to lots of people about it because I am closely involved in putting forward the industry’s views on concerns we have.

“Mandelson’s only comment was to say he wasn’t closely involved in it. He hadn’t decided whether even to speak on the bill, but said he might raise the concerns he has in Hartlepool.”

Mandelson has complained to Johnston Press about Blackwood and has been advised to take his complaints to the Press Complaints Commission, said Bowdler.

Blackwood is now on sick leave after an inquiry into gross misconduct on his part, which he considers has been engineered by Mandelson, but which Johnston says relates to editorial standards.

Blackwood, however, claims he has a copy of a letter Bowdler sent to Mandelson which mentioned “Mandelson’s threat to speak out”.

He stated: “I have been the subject of three company inquiries in 18 months, the latest lasting four months. I cannot tell you the pressure that that puts you under. Most people would have crumbled. It has only been my fitness that has kept me mentally tough to cope with it. When this all started, I took legal advice from a solicitor.

“I have been keeping a dossier three or four inches thick. I’ve kept every letter, every e-mail, and recorded every conversation and discussion I have had with anybody about anything remotely connected with this. Also I was advised to have a colleague I trusted implicitly so I could discuss everything with them so I had a witness.”

The MoS has offered Blackwood a weekly column in its northern edition.

Does he consider himself sacked from the Mail? “That’s up to the company but I fully expect them to do so. Their agenda throughout this has been to put me under so much pressure that they want to force me to resign. I have always said that there is no way I can resign.

“I am sure they will say that writing a column for The Mail on Sunday breaches my contract. If that is the case, how come they have allowed me to have my column on Hold the Front Page website for the last three and a half years?”

By Jean Morgan

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