Staff 'frightened' by prospect of Neil taking over

The relief among staff at The Daily Telegraph that the Barclay brothers had beaten Richard Desmond to become their new proprietors has given way to apprehension over the possible arrival of the brothers' henchman.

Andrew Neil has been ubiquitous during the past seven years of the Barclays' 11-year adventure in newspapers. Mr Neil spearheaded their unsuccessful efforts to create a pan-Continental paper The European (which cost £50m).

He was heavily involved with the launch of another ground-breaking product, Sunday Business, which also faltered only for Mr Neil to persuade the brothers to repackage it as The Business.

As the editorial chief for Press Holdings Ltd, Mr Neil also oversees the other Barclay brothers titles, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News.

His reputation is built not only on mixed success in newspaper management but on his time as editor of The Sunday Times, during which he emerged as one of the most powerful figures in British journalism before falling out with Rupert Murdoch.

If he does take up post at the Telegraph, Mr Neil might have to relinquish not just his newspaper column but his role at the BBC, where he presents three shows, This Week, Daily Politics and Midnight Hour.

The BBC has introduced restrictions on employees working for outside media organisations.

Mr Neil's forthright personality and willingness to sack those he believes are under-performing has had nerves jangling at Britain's best-selling broadsheet and its sister title The Sunday Telegraph, since it was announced that the Barclay brothers had agreed a £260m deal to buy the papers. According to one Telegraph executive: "There's a feeling among many that they are quite frightened at the prospect of the arrival of Andrew Neil. He doesn't take prisoners and he does interfere."

One of the reporters predicted that if Mr Neil were to arrive at the group's headquarters in London's Docklands he would quickly fall out with some existing executives.

"He wouldn't really fit in with the culture, which is old Tory," he said. "He's just a bit Murdoch- that's where he grew up. He's a lot harder and not as genial and probably would put a few backs up."

Another senior member of staff said the potential arrival of Mr Neil was widely seen as "a bit of a worry".

Gossip among staff in the Telegraph offices in Canary Wharf has included the possible working relationship between Mr Neil and Sarah Sands, deputy editor of the daily newspaper.

In one of a series of articles about The Daily Telegraph in his column in the Evening Standard, Mr Neil blamed Ms Sands for making the features pages "unoriginal, sometimes even stale".

The Daily Telegraph went out of its way yesterday to point out that Mr Neil "was not involved in the negotiations" to buy the papers.

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