The macho man who ran his newsroom with an iron fist

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For once, Ian Edmondson was scared. One of the most macho journalists in Fleet Street, he found himself struck by a flying beer bottle as England fans rioted in the picturesque Belgian town of Charleroi. "It was terrifying," he later told his readers. "My only thought was to get out of there – fast."

A decade after that incident at the Euro 2000 football championships, Edmondson has greater problems than simply "nursing my aching head". Suspended by Rupert Murdoch's News Group from his role as assistant editor with responsibility for news at the News of the World, he finds himself at the centre of the long-running media scandal; the subject of an internal investigation into a "serious allegation" that he was involved in the phone-hacking of private voicemail messages – and he may be required to give evidence to the police.

Mr Edmondson, who is in his early forties, is from the old school of tabloid journalism. Until his sudden suspension – while he was on his Christmas break – he had ruled the newsroom at Wapping, east London, with an iron fist. Described by those who have worked with him as a "micro-manager" and a "complete control freak", he felt responsible for delivering the editor the weekly "splash", the front-page story that is all-important to sales of a weekly tabloid.

When the News of the World had a big scoop, such as a string of recent exclusives on match-fixing in cricket, Sarah Ferguson's "cash-for-access" shame and Wayne Rooney's use of prostitutes, Mr Edmondson was not slow to take credit. But he was fiercely competitive with rival departments within his own newspaper. Experienced in the cut-throat office politics of red-top papers, he was deft at distancing himself from ideas that had not worked and calling in from holiday to play a role in big stories. He arrived at the market-leading tabloid during the editorship of Andy Coulson, now director of communications for David Cameron.

Mr Edmondson was recruited by Mr Coulson's deputy Neil Wallis, who had admired his steely qualities when they worked together at The People. After replacing James Weatherup as news editor, he established himself as the biggest beast in the newsroom, having daily contact with the editor – and four or five meetings on Saturdays.

If the phone hacking culture really did extend beyond a single rogue reporter – and News Group has until now emphatically denied that it did – then Mr Edmondson, the "vortex" of the News of the World newsroom, would know who knew about it.

As a reporter, Mr Edmondson, who is from the North of England, had an instinct for classic tabloid scoops, such as a kiss and tell exposé of Lord Archer and gangster Reggie Kray's release from jail. Showing his tough guy side, he noted in a feature on white-collar boxing how he sent his opponent – a former Army boxing champ – "sprawling" and mentioned he had "run a few marathons". But – somewhat bizarrely – he is also a former Butlins Redcoat and is said to be a devoted father to his three children.

While at The People he performed a charity run for a children's hospice. When his wife, Julia, was carrying their first child, Mr Edmondson took her to the Maldives for a travel article in which he was pictured in the Indian Ocean as the "King of Swim". Noting that his wife was pregnant within five months of marriage, he joked: "I've never been one to mess about."

He has had previous journalistic problems. In an earlier spell at the News of the World as a reporter, he wrote a story claiming that Granada Television had spent £22,900 on treating the suspects of the Stephen Lawrence murder to an "all-expenses-paid 15-day jaunt", including golf, fishing and go-karting trips and tickets to a Scottish Cup semi-final. The suspects were taken to a neutral location ahead of filming with the interviewer Martin Bashir, but the costs related to accommodation and transport amounting to £7,115.

Granada complained of a "very serious attack on its reputation and journalistic integrity". News Group Newspapers said Mr Edmondson "honestly believed his sources", but accepted that the allegations were "untrue" and paid undisclosed damages to a charity.

A few years later, News Group was happy for News of the World to hire Mr Edmondson for its news desk. This week it has been less sympathetic.