War of words over revamp of 'Sunday Telegraph'

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The Independent Online

A war of words has broken out between the sacked editor of The Sunday Telegraph and her former colleagues, who she has accused of "strangling at birth" her attempts to revamp the newspaper.

Sarah Sands, who has not commented publicly since she left the paper in March - after an unsuccessful redesign - is now said to have accused executives at the Telegraph group of attempting to "trash her reputation''.

In a letter to GQ, she tells of the tensions that lay behind her departure and defends her efforts, stressing the newspaper's circulation was higher when she left than when she started.

Her letter, expected to be published in the October edition of GQ, is in response to an interview in the magazine in which Andrew Neil, the former Sunday Times editor - now a senior executive for the Telegraph group owners, the Barclay brothers - said drastic action had been needed "or the whole franchise would be destroyed'.'

Mr Neil, chief executive of the part of the Barclays' empire that includes The Business and The Spectator, but who was not involved in the hiring or firing of Ms Sands, told the magazine: "I have always favoured change, But this [the redesign] just seemed to be completely wrong, from the use of unjustified type even on news stories to the kind of hug-a-tree features. It just didn't seem to be what The Sunday Telegraph was about.''

He added: "I have made mistakes in appointing editors and when you do, the best thing to do is to draw a line under it and say 'I'm sorry, my fault, its over'.''

Ms Sands left the paper after John Bryant was appointed as editor-in-chief above her head.

At that time, the paper was selling 683,740 a week, compared with 666,031 before she was appointed in May 2005. Under her editorship, The Sunday Telegraph, always an upholder of traditional, Conservative values, with an older readership profile, became a more "feminine" paper, with a softer tone to its appearance. The colour magazine was replaced with Stella, devoted to fashion and beauty, and Seven, covering cultural matters.

She is quoted as saying in the letter: "I was removed because I was not to the taste of men such as Andrew Neil but he has no right to trash my reputation.''

She adds: "Mr Neil claims that I had to be removed before I destroyed the franchise. That is odd. I spent 11 years at The Daily Telegraph visibly growing the franchise, especially on a Saturday. It may suit Andrew Neil's purposes to create a myth about my Sunday editorship, but I should remind him circulation was higher when I left than when I started.''

Ms Sands admits that some elderly readers had been upset by her changes but she believed many new readers had been delighted by the "originality and energy and wit" they found and had been sorry to see the project "strangled at birth".

The "hug-a-tree" features, Ms Sands suggests, were "beautifully written examinations of the human condition".

A tale of two editors

SARAH SANDS

Style: Fragrant editress

Most likely to commission: An in-depth survey of global trends in scented candles, written by a fashion writer

Politics: Hardcore Cameronite

Most likely to say: "Reading my new magazine will be like sinking yourself into a warm bubble bath ...''

ANDREW NEIL

Style: Crinkly-haired, pugnacious newspaper executive, all-purpose commentator and occasional boulevardier

Most likely to commission: An in-depth analysis of global economic trends, written by a respected commentator

Politics: Thatcherite to the core.

Most likely to say: "Yes, Sir David; No, Sir Frederick ...''

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