Assault puts a strain on friendships at `European'

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ANDREW NEIL, editor in chief of the European news magazine, is facing an office rebellion if he does not sack his closest friend, the ex-Tory minister Gerry Malone, for hitting one of the newspaper's journalists.

Mr Malone, who was a health minister in John Major's government and is now editor of the European, has issued a formal apology to the title's features editor, Nicola Davidson, after making a drunken sexual approach to her and then hitting her around the head when it was rebuffed.

Mr Malone's position at the magazine is hanging in the balance depending on whether Ms Davidson accepts the apology. It is known that a number of other European employees have said they no longer wish to work with Mr Malone after his behaviour. Some have lobbied Ms Davidson to hire a lawyer and make a stand against sexual harassment.

Mr Malone's actions, which were witnessed by at least three other European employees, happened when he returned from watching the Scotland versus Brazil World Cup match in a pub.

Sue Douglas, managing editor of the paper, said yesterday: "It is an entirely internal matter and the company has taken appropriate action. We have the matter in hand." But Mr Neil is known to have been deeply upset by the incident despite his closeness to Mr Malone.

The two have known each other since university and at one time they were flatmates. Mr Neil caused much resentment when as editor of the Sunday Times he appointed Mr Malone as Scottish editor after Mr Malone lost his first parliamentary seat in 1987. The two also bought a business together, the Country Gentlemen's Association, a magazine and mail-order business targeted at the stately homes of Britain.

In the general election last year Mr Malone lost his Winchester seat by two votes and was appointed editor of the European earlier this year.