Sacrificed to save the Mirror's name

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The Independent Online

By any standards yesterday was an extraordinary day for one of Fleet Street's most controversial editors. Throughout it - as he had done for several days before - Piers Morgan, the editor of the Daily Mirror, put on a defiant front.

By any standards yesterday was an extraordinary day for one of Fleet Street's most controversial editors. Throughout it - as he had done for several days before - Piers Morgan, the editor of the Daily Mirror, put on a defiant front.

He started the day with a cocky public insistence that there was "no hope" of him resigning. Behind the scenes, however, he was becoming less sure and before the ink had dried on his latest protestations he was clearing his desk.

In the end it was Trinity Mirror's jittery shareholders who sealed Morgan's fate. In a highly unusual development, two of the leading shareholders in the company spoke out publicly of their growing unease over Morgan's determination to stand by the authenticity of pictures that the Armed Forces minister, Adam Ingram, had declared to be fake the previous day.

First Isis Asset Management, a fund management company that owns almost 4 per cent of Trinity Mirror, said it wanted answers about the controls in place at the newspaper. Karina Litvack, head of corporate governance at Isis, said: "The allegations raise some very real concerns for us about the integrity of the Daily Mirror's editorial processes."

Deutsche Asset Management, another major City shareholder, then said that it was worried about the reputation of the Daily Mirror, which is the company's most important asset. Deutsche's Andrew Tusa said: "We will have to look very carefully at what Trinity Mirror does next in order to protect the value of the Mirror's brand ... The impact of this sort of issue on the reputation of a company is something we have to grapple with as investors."

Then there were Trinity Mirror's American shareholders, including Tweedy, Browne, which had previously expressed reservations about the Mirror's stance on Iraq. It was Tweedy, Browne that began the revolt among investors at Hollinger International that led last year to the toppling of its chairman and chief executive, Lord Black of Crossharbour.

Another American influence is Fidelity, a large investment group. One of Trinity Mirror's largest shareholders, it orchestrated the campaign that last year ousted Michael Green, chairman of Carlton, the ITV company.

Sly Bailey, the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, was becoming increasingly anxious. Then at 2pm yesterday she was watching television coverage of a press conference called by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Reporting new details, that the pictures were not taken in Iraq but in a Territorial Army barracks car park near Manchester, the regiment demanded an apology, claiming the newspaper's images had "unjustly sullied" its reputation.

Brigadier Geoff Sheldon said the regiment had proved the photos showing alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners were fake. Commenting on one depicting a British soldier allegedly urinating on an Iraqi prisoner, Brig Sheldon said: "It was a mocked-up fake, not even taken in Iraq."

The Daily Mirror's allegations were "utter and complete nonsense," Brig Sheldon said. "This is a deadly serious business because people's lives have been placed in jeopardy."

Ms Bailey was said by insiders to have been impressed by what she saw as "compelling evidence" that refuted the newspaper's position. She was also taken with the argument that the newspaper had put the lives of British soldiers at risk.

The chief executive had declined previous opportunities to fire the editor over the Mirror's declining circulation, but yesterday afternoon an anxious Ms Bailey met the Trinity Mirror chairman, Sir Victor Blank, convinced that the Daily Mirror had to change its defiant stance. The Trinity Mirror non-executive directors, including Peter Birch and David Marlow, took a similar view.

But Mr Morgan was refusing to back down. He went on television to defend the pictures, just as he had done for the previous 13 days, and to speak in support of a soldier who he claims backs the paper's allegations of abuse.

Soldier "C" came forward after two colleagues made allegations of abuse and produced photographs to the Daily Mirror newspapers to back up their claims. Details were released to the press of an interview that Soldier C had recorded for ITV's Tonight With Trevor McDonald.

He told the programme: "They [Iraqi prisoners] were beaten for fun. I saw them in those sand bags for hours and hours on end. And then water would be poured over them. I know that some of them had trouble breathing." The victims were often "beyond" screaming or crying out, he added

This was the material that Mr Morgan had hoped would save his job. But by the time the show went on air, Morgan's nine-year reign was over.

Mirror journalists bemoaned the loss of a "great" editor. One said: "The mood in the news room was sombre. Everyone was surprised and shocked. We did not expect it. He was a big personality and that is what you need for a tabloid editor. He was very well liked and will be difficult to replace."

AN EDITOR'S DEMISE

By Helen Johnstone

30 April

The Daily Mirror publishes video footage emanating from the US of soldiers torturing Iraqi PoWs.

1 May

TheMirror marks the first anniversary of the end of the war with a "world exclusive", claiming to show British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. Two soldiers, A and B, give details. Army begins inquiry.

2 May

Six NCOs serving with the Queen's Lancashire Regiment are held as doubts are first raised about the pictures' authenticity.

3 May

MoD promises thorough investigation as Army officials also claim the photos are fakes. A defiant Mirror declares: "We Told The Truth".

4 May

Ministers come under pressure to make a Commons statement on the progress of the investigation.

5 May

Piers Morgan is asked to prove the photos' authenticity to MPs. No 10 says the Mirror has a "duty" to reveal troops' names to the Army. Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, says British soldiers' lives have been put at risk by what might be unfounded allegations.

7 May

Another soldier- C- gives a statement to the Army about the abuse he claims he had witnessed at Basra last year.

8 May

Soldier D provides what the Mirror claims is proof British troops took "trophy" photos. Donald Rumsfeld accepts responsibility for US abuse.

10 May

Tony Blair apologises for any abuse of Iraqi prisoners in British custody.

11 May

The political row hots up as the Red Cross says a report had been sent to the Government in February claiming abuse was taking place but Tony Blair and the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, deny they had seen it.

12 May

A gruesome video showing an American civilian being beheaded, said to be in retaliation for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, is released.

13 May

Mr Blair faces Labour pressure to distance himself from George Bush. Mr Ingram denounces photographs as fake after an investigation by the Royal Military Police.

14 May

Piers Morgan insists he will not resign but shareholders get jittery and he is forced out.

15 May

The Mirror admits: 'We were hoaxed'.

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