Fayed gives up 'Today' fight

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The Independent Online
MATHEW HORSMAN and STEVE BOGGAN

Mohamed al-Fayed was last night prepared to thrown in the towel in the aftermath of his failed bid to take over Today, the national newspaper closed by Rupert Murdoch.

However, sources close to the controversial owner of Harrods hinted he would consider starting a newspaper from scratch, having decided existing titles such as the Express would be too expensive to turn around.

Meanwhile, a party held by Today staff to drown their sorrows degenerated into a mass brawl which had to be stopped by dozens of police officers. One man was taken to hospital with arm injuries caused by broken glass and eight more were charged with public order offences when a disagreement inside Henry's Cafe Bar in Tobacco Dock, east London, overheated and spilled outside.

According to Scotland Yard, the fight started at 10.40pm in the middle of a gathering of 300 people. Charges range from affray to being drunk and disorderly and assaulting a police officer. All were released on police bail to appear before Thames Magistrates' Court on 3 January.

A key adviser to Mr Fayed said last night that "we will have to forget about Today. It is clear that Murdoch has made this decision for purely commercial reasons, and we will not be able to change his mind".

It is believed that Mr Murdoch hopes to entice Today readers to the Sun.

Mr Fayed had also tried to buy Today last summer. According to informed sources, Mr Fayed offered pounds 1 to take the title off Mr Murdoch's hands, but was willing to absorb the pounds 10m current-year losses.

The Fayed camp yesterday repeated assertions that political interference had influenced Mr Murdoch's decision. It believes the Government was prepared to stop a sale at all costs, and had offered to give Mr Murdoch a freer ride on cross-media ownership rules in the new broadcasting bill, to be published at the end of the month.

Today's closure has also fueled rumours that Mr Murdoch is poised to take a stake in United News and Media, publishers of the Express titles.

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