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April 27, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:17am

Who is David Dillon? Low-profile Mail on Sunday editor takes centre stage

By Dominic Ponsford

Mail on Sunday editor David Dillon has kept a low profile up until now without even a press release to announce his appointment back in December.

You won’t find him on Twitter or Linkedin and he’s never done an interview or media appearance (to my knowledge). We don’t have a picture of him on file so I’ve had to settle for this screenshot (above) from the new  DMG Media website.

But he is firmly in the spotlight now, defending his paper’s reporting of Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner in the face of claims that its portrayal of her was sexist and demeaning.

His first public statement as editor came last night as he refused to present himself to the Speaker of the House of Commons to defend a page five lead story comparing Rayner to Sharon Stone in the 1992 film Basic Instinct.

David Dillon letter to Speaker Lindsay Hoyle

He said: “I and The Mail on Sunday have the greatest possible respect both for your Office and for Parliament. Along with a free press they are the foundation stones of British democracy. For that reason – and on the understanding that the intention was to draw a line under matters – yesterday I and The Mail on Sunday’s Political Editor Glen Owen accepted your invitation to meet to discuss last Sunday’s story about Angela Rayner.

“However, since then two things have happened.

“Firstly, and regrettably, in your statement in the House yesterday you said: ‘I share the views expressed by a wide range of members, including I believe the Prime Minister, that yesterday’s article was reporting unsubstantiated claims – and misogynistic and offensive.’ This indicated that you had passed judgment on our article without being in possession of the facts surrounding how it came to be reported.

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“Secondly, following investigations by the Conservative Party, three other MPs who were part of the group on the House of Commons terrace, one of them a woman, have come forward to corroborate the account of Angela Rayner’s remarks given to us by the MP who was the source of last Sunday’s story.

“The Mail on Sunday deplores sexism and misogyny in all its forms. However, journalists must be free to report what they are told by MPs about conversations which take place in the House of Commons, however unpalatable some may find them.

“Britain rightly prides itself on its free press. That freedom will not last if journalists have to take instruction from officials of the House of Commons, however august they may be, on what they can report and not report. I am afraid I and Glen Owen must now decline your invitation.”

Who is David Dillon?

Dillon’s appointment as editor followed the sacking of Daily Mail editor Geordie Greig following a power struggle for the editorial direction of the title and the group.

Greig saw it as his mission to “detoxify” a brand which had been vilified by pro-Europeans over its forthright (and ultimately successful) campaigning in favour of Brexit.

Under Greig the Mail had become broadly pro-European and more critical of the Conservative government.

In December, Mail on Sunday editor Ted Verity was promoted to edit the daily with former editor Paul Dacre reinstalled as editor-in-chief.

The editorial direction has changed and under Verity the Mail been more supportive of Johnson, portraying the Partygate saga as a comparatively trivial distraction.

Verity was put in charge of a seven-day operation (both the daily and Sunday titles) leaving a question mark over the extent to which Dillon would be a ‘sovereign’ editor in his own right.

The shake-up at the top of the Mail titles was certainly intended to reimpose some order at the group. In the years to 2018 when Greig was editing the Mail on Sunday and Dacre the Daily Mail, there had been sometimes public animosity between the two titles as indicated by them taking an opposing stance on Brexit.

But any news brand can only have one person with their name above the door, the individual who can ultimately be sent to prison if the paper commits a contempt of court for instance, and that person is clearly Dillon at the Mail on Sunday.

He first joined the paper from the Daily Express in 2001 and was news editor for a number of years before being promoted to executive editor, deputy editor and then editor following Verity’s promotion.

The daily and Sunday title now have much closer relationship than before, collaborating rather battling on editorial campaigns (as with a series on gut health which ran across both titles).

Under Dillon, circulation on the Mail on Sunday has continued to decline (down 14% year on year in March). However, this total was in line with the rest of the market and leaves the Mail on Sunday (with an ABC of 748,965), still comfortably the top selling Sunday newspaper title in the UK.

Dillon’s most noteworthy story was probably the revelations he worked on in 2014 relating to former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne swapping speeding points with his then wife Vicky Pryce. Both were jailed for perverting the course of justice.

Dillon’s source, judge Constance Briscoe, was herself jailed after lying about not speaking to the press. The Mail on Sunday refused to hand over evidence which would have identified her but Kent Police secretly seized the phone records of Dillon and a freelance journalist in order to identify Briscoe as a source.

At the time the Mail on Sunday was furious about the police attack on press freedom and this episode may help explain Dillon’s reluctance to be dictated to by the Commons speaker.

Those who have worked with Dillon’s immediate boss, Verity, say he is polite and approachable but less clubbable than his predecessor Greig – and perhaps less concerned about who he offends.

Verity and Dillon both politely declined Press Gazette requests for interviews when they were appointed, saying they would prefer to let their newspapers do the talking.

Campaign group seeks advertising boycott of Mail titles

Since Dillon was appointed Mail on Sunday editor, parent company DMGT has been taken into private hands. With no shareholders or stock market to answer to, the company is better able to shrug off public criticism than a PLC could.

It is answerable really only to its advertisers and readers.

The former have faced a renewed attack from the campaign group Stop Funding Hate which urges brands to boycott newspapers with which it does not agree.

The group has 128,000 followers on Twitter and is sufficiently influential for numerous advertisers to act on its recommendations and for executives from targeted titles (like the Mail and Express) to meet its leaders in the past.

This week Stop Funding Hate signalled its firm opposition to the Rayner coverage in the Daily Mail and Mail and Sunday with a series of tweets, and urged advertisers including supermarket brands Lidl and Morrisons to stop working with the paper.

It had already posted about its aversion to the change of editorial direction at the Daily Mail.

But the real test for the Mail on Sunday will come this weekend when readers vote with their wallets at the newsagent.

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