NoW leaves it late with Johnson sacking story

All change: the NoW scrapped early editions after Johnson was sacked

The News of the World had just minutes to go before its first edition deadline when the news came through that “bonking” Boris Johnson had been sacked from the Conservative front bench.

The tabloid had put its dossier of evidence against Johnson before Tory leader Michael Howard two hours earlier after the MP and Spectator editor had told the paper to “publish and be damned” when confronted by its claims.

After getting news that the “snooty mop-haired toff” had lost his job as shadow arts minister the NoW changed its front page story and claimed to be the only paper to get the full story in all its editions.

Associate news editor Gary Thompson said: “The story had been knocking around in the dailies during the week but no one had really got their teeth into it. It got to Saturday and it wasn’t rocket science it was good old-fashioned journalism.

“A very good source, a friend close to Petronella, gave us a briefing. From the level of detail we got it became obvious that the story was true.

“At 4.20pm we told him what we were going to publish and 10 minutes later we contacted Michael Howard’s office. We were going to be publishing the story anyway but two hours later Michael Howard spoke to Boris and sacked him.

“After 6.30pm it’s getting to the point where you don’t want to be messing about with the paper unless it’s big news.”

Thompson pointed out that it was not the fact Johnson had been unfaithful, but the fact that he had apparently lied about doing so, which cost him his job. And he drew parallels with the story first denied, and then finally admitted, by the FA that secretary Faria Alam had slept with both chief exective Mark Palios and England coach Sven Goran Eriksson.

Thompson said: “If you mislead people over one thing, who’s to say you won’t do it again. You can’t have senior members of the shadow cabinet being economic with the truth.”

Johnson was publicly upbraided by his new boss Andrew Neil on Tuesday when he urged the MP to concentrate more on his job of editing the Spectator .

It emerged last week that Neil, the Barclay brothers’ long-time editor-inchief, was now in charge of the Spectator . The magazine, acquired by them along with the rest of Telegraph Group for £665 million in July, has been transferred to Press Holdings, of which Neil is chief executive.

Press Holdings includes the Barclays’ existing titles: The Business, Scotland on Sunday , Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News.

Neil, who himself also writes a media column for the Standard and hosts a current affairs TV programme on the BBC, said: “I think the more time the editor spends in Doughty Street editing the magazine and the less we see of him in the newspapers, then the better for the editor and the better for the magazine.”

Neil said Johnson would have to leave the magazine if he returned to the Conservative front bench.

Johnson has been editor of the Spectator since 1999 and overseen a period of steady growth when the title’s ABC has increased from 57,544 to 63,695. In 2003 he was named British Society of Magazine Editors’ editor of the year.

By Dominic Ponsford

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