Ridley: 'Ashford was key to release of French reporter'

Yvonne Ridley

Paris Match executives contacted Express Newspapers editorial director Paul Ashford for help in securing the safe release of reporter Michel Peyrard, chief reporter Yvonne Ridley told a women’s seminar this week.

Ashford flew to Peshawar, Pakistan, to negotiate with the Taliban for Ridley’s release after her 10-day captivity. And Ridley believes it was the thoroughness of his presentation that convinced them she was a bona fide journalist.

"It included articles I had written over the years from all the papers I had worked for, plus pay slips and other information. They did such a good job that Paris Match contacted Ashford and asked if they would do the same for Peyrard," Ridley told a Women in Journalism seminar in London.

Ridley also revealed that proprietor Richard Desmond volunteered to fly out but was persuaded that it was not a good idea.

She faced some aggressive questioning from  some women who felt she had been naive in letting herself become the story when millions of Afghan women were suffering at the hands of the Taliban.

She expressed her unease at the lurid headlines on the Daily Express article that appeared after her release, claiming that she had been kept in a rat-infested jail and fought with vicious guards.

"I wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t my story although it had my name on it. I was met by a Daily Express reporter, David Smith, who wrote the story and for whatever reason it was changed around in London. The headlines were misleading, but I can’t be held responsible for that. In fact, I was treated the entire time with the greatest of respect," she said.

"Perhaps it happened because the Taliban has this horrendous reputation. Someone rang my news editor to say I was going to be beheaded in the square on Tuesday."

Ridley said she has been working "behind the scenes" to try to ensure the safety of the men captured with her. Asked why so many women columnists had attacked her on her return, she put it down to "commercial rivalry". "It’s because I work for Express Newspapers," she said.


By Philippa Kennedy

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