It took little more than a day for the backlash to begin. UK journalists had just drawn a collective breath of relief on hearing Sunday Express chief reporter Yvonne Ridley was free when rival newspapers began sniping at her "foolishness" for going into Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
The Mirror’s tart leader said journalists must exercise the utmost caution when covering a war and Ridley’s capture "led to huge drains on vital Government resources at a time when officials have more important things to worry about than the fate of foolhardy journalists".
Its columnist Sue Carroll said Ridley was no heroine and castigated her for not saying ‘thanks’ to all the people who had helped get her out.
Sun columnist Jane Moore wrote: "She is damn lucky to be alive. What the hell was she doing there in the first place?"
The Times reported a split at Ludgate House between the editors and news editors of the Daily and Sunday Express over the decision to allow Ridley to go in. Chris Williams at the Daily said it was "sheer folly" while Martin Townsend at the Sunday was enthusiastic about her enterprise, said the paper. An Express Newspapers spokesman said Townsend had accepted the assessment of his foreign correspondent "on the ground", adding: "She thought it was a plausible thing to do and he backed that judgement."
While there was believed to have been a heated discussion between the two papers’ executives, Williams did not make his criticisms until after Ridley was captured. He had not spoken to her and did not know she was in Afghanistan until he saw the news on television.
A number of newspapers expressed concern for the imprisoned guides who had accompanied Ridley who could now face execution.
Ridley wrote in the Express on Wednesday: "This was a story that had to be told and I was prepared to take a calculated risk to get to the truth."
Townsend, who is still backing her, told Press Gazette: "We are thrilled Yvonne is home safely, though naturally we share her concerns for the well-being of the two guides who voluntarily accompanied her across the border. Yvonne has been superbly resolute throughout the most difficult times and I personally pay tribute to her professionalism and courage."
But there have been repercussions already at her company. Neither of the Expresses nor the Daily Star is to be allowed by boss Richard Desmond to take up places on Ministry of Defence pools to the war area. He does not want another Ridley situation on his hands but editors and journalists are aghast at the ban which leaves them unable to carry frontline coverage.
By Jean Morgan