‘Puppeteer’ Dacre in Littlejohn court fight

By Dominic Ponsford and Jean Morgan

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is likely to be accused in open court
of being the "puppeteer" behind Richard Littlejohn's strategy to leave
The Sun before the end of his contract.

Next week Dacre will face equally publicity-shy editor Rebekah Wade
at the High Court in a tug-of-love battle over Britain's highest-paid
columnist.

In what promises to be a riveting three-day hearing,
News International executive chairman Les Hinton, deputy editor Fergus
Shanahan and assistant editor Chris Stevens are all set to take to the
witness stand, as well as Littlejohn himself.

The Daily Mail
announced in May that it had signed up Littlejohn and expected him to
start writing for the paper later this year. But The Sun has insisted
that the famously right-wing pundit keep to the terms of his contract
and stay until February.

It is thought that the Mail is
especially eager to get Littlejohn because its own columnist, Simon
Heffer, has opted to join The Daily Telegraph.

The Sun is understood to have email evidence of correspondence between the Daily Mail and Littlejohn.

Littlejohn
was in the High Court last Friday for a preliminary injunction hearing
brought against him by The Sun to stop him writing for the Daily Mail,
and he agreed not to write for the Mail pending a full three-day
hearing from 18 October.

The case will shine a light on the terms
of Littlejohn's contract, long reputed to be the most lucrative in
Fleet Street and believed to exceed £800,000 a year (which included the
fee for his axed Sky One talk show). His deal with the Mail is likely
to be generous too.

After Friday's court hearing, Littlejohn
indicated that he would not be writing for the paper again and said
there had been an "irretrievable" breakdown in relations. Sun sources
have said that Littlejohn had been frequently on the phone to the
relevant Sunexecutives on days that his twiceweekly column was filed.

They
say he was on "fantastically friendly terms" with executives at the
paper whom he dealt with, and once called in 11 times in one day.

The
Daily Mail reported in its own pages that Littlejohn was due to join
the paper early in the New Year, and staff at the paper were under the
impression that this was still the case.

Before he joined The Sun five years ago, Littlejohn spent four years at the Mail.

Opinion

SO IS HE WORTH IT?

City University professor of journalism and former Daily Mirror
editor Roy Greenslade said: "I am a well-known Richard Littlejohn
detractor, but I think he is worth it to The Sun and not worth it to
the Mail. I think he's invaluable to The Sun and extremely hard to
replace, which is why they won't let him go. I think he's wrong for the
Daily Mail because he's too vulgar and not thoughtful enough for Mail
readers."

Brian Asplin, editor of one of Littlejohn's first papers, the
Wisbech Standard, said: "Anyone is worth what they can get. It's like
saying, is Wayne Rooney worth what he gets paid?

Probably not, but if he can get it, good luck to him."

Former
Daily Express "Wednesday witch" columnist Carol Sarler said: "I still
adhere to the Marxist analysis of capitalism that you will always get
paid slightly less than your worth to the owner." But she added that
she hopes Littlejohn loses his case because: "Anything that in a court
of law weakens the bond of contract between a newspaper and a
journalist will eventually work against the journalist and in favour of
management."

Columnist and TV writer Charlie Catchpole said:
"Columnists are the new rock and roll stars, and you get what the
market will stand. He is unique.

Good for him – he's worth every penny.

He
is able to get into the mind of what readers think at the Mail and The
Sun – he doesn't change his style and doesn't write up or down, he just
writes. I read something by Littlejohn and I just wish I said it. He
also aggravates… and that's a great skill to have."

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.