Press Gazette has uncovered evidence that Trinity Mirror could have saved some or all of the eight weekly newspapers it closed in April.
The development follows Trinity Mirror group legal director Paul Vickers’ statement to the House of Lords Communications Committee saying the closure of the Derby and Peterborough-based titles would still be trading if it wasn’t for the Competition Commission’s decision to veto their sale to Johnston Press in 2002.
His comments on 20 May came as Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey warned about the danger to the regional press of the BBC‘s expansion into local online news.
Six journalists were made redundant when the Belper Bugle, Derby Trader, Ilkeston Trader, Ripley Trader, Peterborough Herald and Post, Stamford Herald and Post, Whittlesey Standard and Deepings Standard were closed.
At the time, Steve Brown, regional managing director of Trinity Mirror’s Midlands division, said: ‘It is a very sad day when newspaper titles close and we looked hard at alternative measures to try and prevent this decision.”
Press Gazette has learned that Iliffe News and Media, which owns the Cambridge Evening News, had previously expressed an interest in the titles, but it was not consulted about a possible purchase to keep some or all of them alive.
Iliffe chief executive David Fordham told Press Gazette: ‘I fully support Trinity Mirror’s firm stance against the BBC’s plans to use its publicly funded position to, in effect, counter the investments and efforts being made by local newspapers to establish viable online businesses.
‘I also fully support their call for a loosening of the current outdated rules on newspaper ownership that fail to recognise the changing nature of the markets we operate in.
‘However, I am slightly confused by the comments of Paul Vickers that appear to suggest these current rules prevented them from selling the eight local newspapers they have recently closed.
‘Our own group would certainly have had an interest in acquiring some of these titles. It is disappointing, therefore, that we were not offered the opportunity of discussing these ambitions with Trinity Mirror prior to their decision to announce their closure.”
A Trinity Mirror spokesman said: ‘As the record of the evidence given to the Lords makes clear, Trinity Mirror referred to the refusal of consent by the Competition Commission in 2002 for a purchase of the titles by Johnston Press.
‘That deal had been agreed at a full commercial price. Any private ambitions that Iliffe may or may not have had do not impact on the CC’s decision in 2002.”
Trinity Mirror has been forced to pay tax-free bonuses worth six-and-a-half weeks’ pay to around 130 journalists on the Racing Post because the firm did not consult properly over moving staff constracts before the title’s sale last October.
The payout follows legal action from the BAJ and the NUJ journalist unions.