Three Welsh weekly newspapers have been forced to close as their publisher suddenly ceased operations, putting 24 jobs at risk.
Staff at the Pembrokeshire Herald, Camarthenshire Herald and Llanelli Herald were told they were at risk of redundancy on Friday morning.
Six months ago Herald News UK had announced it planned to invest £1.5m over the next year, creating ten new jobs and relaunching its titles.
But group director John Hammond said it was decided at a finance meeting on Thursday night that the company was no longer viable as it could not pay its costs after the investment fell through.
Administrators could be appointed this week, he added.
“Whilst every conceivable effort has been made to improve the financial situation of the business, we have to face the fact that there is no way that we can now continue in a solvent position,” Hammond said.
“Whilst there has been a slow decline in readership of local newspapers, our costs for wages, printing and transport have substantially increased.”
The Pembrokeshire Herald launched in 2013, with its sister titles following almost two years later.
The title’s editor Thomas Sinclair (pictured) said on Friday: “We are absolutely devastated that after nearly seven years and hundreds of editions of the paper we can no longer continue.
“I would like to think that over those years, some of the stories we have written have made a difference to Pembrokeshire and beyond.”
The Herald said in March it had “secured significant new investment to secure its future” after a cash injection from Herald News International Inc, a new investment vehicle created after the newspapers’ sale to private investors in the UK and US.
The new company was incorporated in the US as one of the major investors, who is from Oman, had business ties there.
The Herald admitted it had seen “considerable financial difficulties” over the previous two years but claimed these were now over.
The newspapers’ former publisher Mega Group Newspapers, for which Sinclair was managing editor, went into liquidation in January 2017.
Last year, Herald Newspapers was ordered to pay a former freelance journalist almost £6,500 and a former employee nearly £3,000 in unpaid wages.
The BBC reported earlier this year that Sinclair had since defied court orders to pay £70,000 to debtors, but that he said he had secured new investment that would allow him to repay everyone, including six ex-employees, within six months.
The Herald has said that launching a fourth newspaper, the loss-making Ceredigion Herald which has already been closed in print, had been a step too far.
Sinclair’s reputation took a hit in 2016 when he was fined £500 for identifying a youth in a court report that appeared in the Pembrokeshire Herald in breach of Section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act.
Just a year later, he was ordered to pay £3,650 in fines and compensation after an article in the Ceredigion Herald, which he also owned and edited before its closure in December 2017, contained information judged likely to identify a sex offence victim.
Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, tweeted: “The Pembrokeshire Herald often enjoyed giving local politicians a hard time, but [I’m] genuinely sad about this.
“Setting up a new local paper was a gutsy thing to do. Thoughts are with the staff.”
In 2017 the Pembrokeshire Herald said it had a total circulation of about 13,500 – 6,500 paid-for (unaudited figures) boosted by 7,000 free distributed copies launched in response to advertising rates being cut at rival newspapers.
Sinclair claimed at the time this gave the Herald the largest weekly circulation in the region.
In 2018, Newsquest-owned Western Telegraph had an average weekly circulation of 9,475 according to ABC figures, while Reach’s Wales on Sunday was on 8,279.
Picture: Johanna Carr/PA Wire