Inquiry into editor sparks protest at Hartlepool Mail

Blackwood: on sick leave

Editorial staff at the Hartlepool Mail turned up wearing black on Tuesday as a protest when they feared editor Harry Blackwood would be sacked.

Blackwood is said to be home on sick leave for 30 days following an investigation into his conduct as editor by Johnston Press management. The inquiry will be resumed on Blackwood’s return.

North East Press editorial director Andrew Smith told Press Gazette Blackwood was home on sick leave but would not comment further.

The inquiry has been going on for the best part of a month and Blackwood had not been in the office for 10 days before his sick leave started. One Mail reporter has been questioned twice during the inquiry.

A Mail staffer said: “We believe this is a witchhunt and there is no justification for it.”

Blackwood has been a high-profile editor since taking the helm of his hometown paper in 1999. He has had several run-ins with local MP Peter Mandelson, who has not spoken to Blackwood since the 2001 General Election. Last year, when the Labour candidate for mayor lost out to the monkey mascot of the local football club, Mandelson blamed the defeat on the Mail’s coverage.

Blackwood held several posts on the paper – sports editor, chief sub and deputy editor – before becoming editor. He was acting editor five times.

His editorship has been a successful one. His campaign against suspected drug dealers in 1999 saw 30 detained in less than a month.

He also writes a hard-hitting weekly column for the paper which is featured on Hold The Front Page website.

By Jean Morgan

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