How brothers finally got their prize

Top to bottom: Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson, who is already been touted as a possible successor to Newland; former owner Conrad Black; and current Daily Telegraph editor Martin Newland

The future of the Telegraph Group has been in limbo since last November when Conrad Black was forced to quit as chief executive of parent company Hollinger International.

Other shareholders claimed that he had taken millions of unauthorised payments from the company and he is still the subject of a $1.2bn lawsuit filed by Hollinger International.

The Barclays initially tried to take control of Hollinger, which also includes the Chicago Sun-Times and Jerusalem Post, by dealing directly with Black. But their attempt to buy his controlling stake in the business was blocked in February after a legal challenge from the Hollinger International board.

As the predicted asking price for the group crept higher, successive bidders dropped out including Express owner Richard Desmond, Newsquest parent company Gannett, German publisher Axel Springer, various private equity firms and finally, last week, Daily Mail and General Trust.

The Barclay brothers, Sir Frederick and Sir David, are both 69 and live on the small Channel Island of Brechou.

They bought failing newspaper The European from Robert Maxwell in 1992 but closed it in 1999 after circulation slumped from 150,000 to 50,000 and it reportedly lost £74m.

Their company, Press Holdings, owns The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News, Scotland on Sunday and The Business.

In 2002 they failed in a bid to buy the Herald which would have allowed them to dominate Scotland’s indigenous quality national press.

The political line taken by their titles north of the border does not appear too far out of step with the traditionally right-wing Telegraph titles. The Scotsman titles are seen as being broadly Eurosceptic and right of centre.

Editors who have worked with the Barclays, who also own the Ritz Hotels, say they are hands-off proprietors who do not interfere overly with their papers’ editorial line.

The Sunday Telegraph’s Mandrake editor, Tim Walker, was diary editor of The European. He said: “All I remember is that they wrote the cheques and left us to it. They were model proprietors.”

This would contrast with Black, who is known to have encouraged his papers to support a pro-Israel and USstyle neo-conservative agenda.

A question mark now lies over the future of Daily Telegraph editor Martin Newland, who was appointed by Black just one month before the press baron’s dramatic fall from grace and is a popular figure among staff.

If the Barclays appoint a new editor possible successors already touted are BBC business editor Jeff Randall and Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson.

Randall was editor of the Sunday Business (as it was then known) under the Barclays and Lawson was praised as being “a very good editor” in a rare interview given by David Barclay to The Guardian in January.

Telegraph Group chief executive Jeremy Deedes, who came out of retirement in March to oversee the bidding process, appears optimistic the titles have a bright future under their new owners.

He said: “I am very confident that we have ended up not just in safe hands but with new owners who have a great track record for nurturing, developing and investing in their acquisitions.”

But a potential grey cloud remains on the horizon in the form of Black, who may still have a say in the sale of the newspaper which he took over in 1985. He remains listed as chairman of his holding company Hollinger Inc which claims to control 72.3 per cent of the voting rights for Hollinger International via a 29.7 per cent equity stake.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Hollinger Inc said it had yet to be persuaded it would support the sale.

By Dominic Ponsford

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