'Times' set to appoint first non-British editor

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Peter Stothard announced last night that he is to step down as editor of The Times after almost 10 years.

The newspaper is thought to be lining up Australian-born Robert Thomson, an executive at the Financial Times, to take over. He would become the first non-Briton to hold the post. Mr Stothard made the surprising announcement to staff at 6.30pm after a day of speculation. He will step down on a date to be agreed with the newspaper's proprietors.

Mr Thomson, managing editor of the FT in America, is said to have become increasingly close to Rupert Murdoch in recent months. He is said to have convinced Mr Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of The News Corporation, the parent company of The Times, that changes were needed at the newspaper. Mr Thomson and Mr Stothard were unavailable for comment last night.

In a short speech to staff, Mr Stothard, 50, described the editorship of the newspaper as "the greatest job in journalism". He thanked Mr Murdoch, staff and other executives for "their support both in the good times and the difficult times".

In a statement, Mr Murdoch said: "Professionally, Peter's editorship will be remembered as a great era in the newspaper's long history. Personally, I will always value Peter as a good friend and as a colleague of great intelligence and talent."

Mr Stothard was absent from the editor's chair for nine months in 2000 to have chemotherapy treatment for a tumour of the pancreas. A spokeswoman for News International said Mr Stothard was leaving to "pursue other interests". He was said to be "fully recovered" from his illness.

Mr Stothard, who is married with two children, took on the editorship in September 1992, after previously serving as deputy editor for six years.