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June 18, 2015

Richard Desmond: Paul Dacre has ‘no balls’, no regret over McCann libel, salaries at Express are ‘pretty good’

By William Turvill

Richard Desmond has accused Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre of having “no balls” as he defended his Express Newspapers regime.

In an interview with Campaign magazine, Desmond also defended the job cuts and treatment of staff on his newspapers.

Last year, after Express Newspapers announced plans to cut 200 editorial jobs shortly after Desmond had sold Channel 5 for around £450m, staff in the National Union of Journalists chapel condemned him as “Britain's greediest billionaire”.

He defended himself to Campaign, saying: "I think it’s an industry thing. At the end of the day, I would love to give pay rises and I’d love to not make anybody redundant. I should also say, not that anyone would shed a tear, that I take £50,000 a year as my wages and have done for the last ten years." As owner of Express Newsapers, Desmond also benefits from the profits, which totalled £37m in 2013.

He described some of the salaries at the Express as “pretty good – £50,000, £60,000 up to £100,000… the kids that join are obviously different…

"Then you have their final pension schemes, two-thirds salary. It all mounts up. So, at the end of the day if you feel you can do better elsewhere then please go and do it."

Desmond, who is doing a round of media interviews to promote his autobiography, also spoke to Campaign of his “sense of destiny” in buying Express Newspapers in 2000.

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He claimed that Daily Mail and General Trust chairman Lord Rothermere offered to buy Express Newspapers from Desmond on his first day as owner for £200m.

On the ownership, Desmond said: "For the Express I put every penny I had in the world in, and then people say to me, 'well we could have done that' – well why didn’t you do it?

"Why didn’t Mr Clever Clogs Paul Dacre do it? I’m sure he could have got funding a lot easier than me, why didn’t he? Because he’s got no balls, because he’s not entrepreneurial."

To promote his book, Desmond has also done interviews with the Financial Times, in which he ordered a bottle of £580 wine for the interviewer to reclaim on expenses, and Radio 4’s Media Show.

Speaking about an early encounter with the "investigation" team followng his purchase of Express Newspapers, Desmond said: “It was quite weird. We walked round the first day and there was a room full of these people, and they looked rather grubby actually.

"And I said what do they do and they said: ‘We can’t tell you.’ I said: ‘Well, you’ve got to tell me.’ ‘No, we can’t tell you.’ And then, I think, second day a cash cheque came up for £5,000 or something, and we don’t do that, we’ve never done that… We don’t draw cash. It’s not the way to behave in a proper company." 

He added: "So we said if you don’t know where the cash is going and you won’t tell us what you’re doing, you know what? You’re out, and that was a really lucky thing because I believe they were the investigation department, and God knows what they were up to under the previous ownership.”

Desmond was also challenged on the Express Newspapers’ coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, which saw the group pay her parents £550,000 in libel damages in 2008 over more than 100 "seriously defamatory" articles.

Desmond first pointed out that while his is “a big boy, happy to take the blame”, editors are in charge of front pages.

Asked if he had any regrets about the Express coverage Desmond said: “Do I regret? Er, no, I think we reported it very fairly.”

He added: “You don’t know what happened. The McCanns had a PR company to start with that wanted [the story] to be on the front page.

“To cut to the chase, when I was at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s programme on Stephen Ward, Bill Kenwright [the Everton Football Club chairman who pledged money to help the McCanns] comes up to me and he says Gerry and – what’s her name, Gerry and the wife? – Kate McCann send their best regards to you and are so thankful to you for keeping that story on the front page.”

He added: “Every other newspaper and every other news station covered it in the same way.”

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