Editor pays for lost sales at the 'Sunday Telegraph' sales

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The turmoil at the Telegraph Group continued as Sarah Sands, the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, was fired just nine months after being appointed.

Since the Channel Islands-based brothers Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay took control of the group less than two years ago, three editors of its national newspapers have been dismissed.

Sands' departure yesterday follows a disastrous relaunch of the Sunday Telegraph last November, which was aimed at making the newspaper more appealing to women but has cost the title about 30,000 readers.

Circulation of the Sunday Telegraph slipped to 682,739 last month, down by 1.4 per cent on a year earlier, in spite of a costly redesign and the launch of two new magazines, Stella and Seven.

Sands, who has left the Telegraph Group after 11 years' service, has been replaced by Patience Wheatcroft, the business and city editor of The Times.

Wheatcroft said in a statement: "The Sunday Telegraph is a great newspaper and I am excited by the challenge of taking over the leadership at this very opportune moment of a paper that stands for so many of the things I believe in."

Her departure from The Times, where she had been for nine years, is a blow to its publishers, News International, whose owner, Rupert Murdoch, thought highly of Wheatcroft. The influential City commentator had also impressed Aidan Barclay, the chairman of the Telegraph's holding group and son of Sir David, and the group's editor-in-chief, John Bryant.

The dismissal of Sands was hardly a surprise, although she appeared to have been unaware of her fate when she arrived for work yesterday morning.

Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, did not mourn her passing, having cancelled his subscription to the newspaper last week. "There was almost nothing in it that I wanted to read. The whole tone of it seemed to me soft-centred. I got no information, no entertainment and no stimulation from it," he said. "Sarah was a sweet girl but she had absolutely no political feel at all and I don't think she was a suitable person to edit a political broadsheet."

When she relaunched the title, Sands told her readers: "Too many papers seem to care more about froth than substance. I want to encourage intelligent writing, and to present it in an elegant fashion. I suppose you could call it brains and beauty."

Stella magazine, which was described by Sands as "incredibly pretty", was launched with a glitzy party at a fashionable London restaurant. The Sunday Telegraph's report of the event said: "Prettiness and panache were the order of the day and the cry, 'Hi! You look great!' ubiquitous and well-merited." But that same cry was anything from ubiquitous in Middle England as readers plucked their new-look newspaper from the letterbox.

Senior Telegraph sources said management became concerned when the change of tone became apparent in the news pages. One said: "The news started to look fluffy. The news agenda was seen as being too close to Woman's Own." Wheatcroft is likely to restore the Sunday Telegraph to its key territories of business, politics and comment. Prettiness and panache will no longer be the order of the day.

The successor

When companies get a call from Patience Wheatcroft, they are said to pick up the receiver with a sense of trepidation. She is described by one colleague as "a very, very tough lady".

Wheatcroft, 54, is also notoriously hard-working. As well as editing The Times's respected business pages, she writes an influential daily business column. She is tough but also stylish, regarded by one business journalist as "easily the best-dressed woman in Fleet Street".

Wheatcroft's politics are described as "very right-wing", unlike the New Labour-supporting Times, and she has the ear of senior figures in the Conservative Party.

Born in Dudley and educated at the University of Birmingham, Wheatcroft made her name as a business journalist by specialising in the retail sector. She is married to a business magazine publisher and has three children.