The chairman of the Telegraph Media Group tried to prevent The Sunday Telegraph from running the scoop that contributed to David Blunkett's fall from office, its former editor has revealed.
Dominic Lawson told yesterday how Aidan Barclay intervened by asking him not to run the story, which concerned Mr Blunkett and "the paternity of various children that he may or may not have fathered".
Giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, Mr Lawson said: "Aidan Barclay asked me not to run the story. I asked him whether it was for a commercial reason. He said, 'David is an important man and will be around for some time'. I remember being amazed. He backed down and the story was run."
Mr Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary for the first time in December 2004, over allegations that a visa application for the nanny of his married lover Kimberly Quinn had been fast-tracked. He returned to office, but resigned a second time the following year over his business dealings.
Mr Lawson, now an Independent columnist, told the committee: "It is not healthy when the intuitive reaction of the owner is to side with a politician against the editor."
He criticised the Telegraph's owners, Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, saying the brothers, who bought the newspaper group in 2004, wanted "a quiet life without any aggro. "That's all very well, but you should not own a newspaper," he said, adding that the Telegraph chairman, Sir David's son, had been "extraordinarily honest" but also naive.
The former editor also hit out at the Telegraph chief executive, Murdoch Maclennan, saying he had no journalistic background, although he was a "genius with printworks". He contrasted the situation under the Barclays with the reign of the previous Telegraph owner, Conrad Black, to whom he had "a pretty direct line".
"It is slightly awkward when the person between you and the proprietor does not have a feel for it. It can lead to misunderstanding," Mr Lawson said of Mr Maclennan. "You can see it in the astonishing turnover of editors. It suggests a degree of interference that was not previously the case."
Conrad Black was, by contrast, "remarkably uninterventionist", although he liked to create the impression that he did intervene, Mr Lawson, added. He told the committee that Aidan Barclay's intervention was the only time in 10 years of editing The Sunday Telegraph that he was asked not to run a story.
Mr Lawson left the paper in 2005. The current editor is Ian MacGregor.