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July 9, 2024

Trevor Kavanagh retires: Fleet Street ‘great’ who stood up for arrested colleagues

At 81, Kavanagh says both he and Joe Biden should step down.

By Dominic Ponsford

Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh has announced his retirement, saying: “I am the same age as ­doddery American President Joe Biden – it’s time both of us left the building.”

Kavanagh said he had planned since last year to step down after this election, but that he will “still pop up in the paper occasionally”.

He used his final regular column to launch a broadside against Keir Starmer’s “loveless landside” government, voted for “by barely 20% of the adult population”.

He added: “If I sound like a sore loser, I’m not. My generation has had the best of it.

“I just feel sorry for all the lovely Sun readers who have made my job such a pleasure.”

Kavanagh joined The Sun as industrial correspondent in 1980, moving to the job of political editor in 1983. He became an associate editor of The Sun after the 2005 general election.

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One of his biggest scoops was his 2004 front page story Hutton Report Leaked, which revealed the contents of the official inquiry into the death of Ministry of Defence employee David Kelly after he was named as a source of quotes used by BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan in reporting allegations that the Blair government misled the country over the case for war with Iraq.

Former Sun executive editor and chief leader writer Fergus Shanahan said: “Although Trevor is revered as a colossus among political journalists, it is his courageous support for a free press that must be remembered too.”

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In 2012, Kavanagh spoke out against Operation Elveden – one of the biggest police investigations in UK criminal history, which was prompted by his own employer handing over incriminating emails to the Crown Prosecution Service. More than 20 Sun journalists were charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office but no convictions were secured at trial.

Shannahan, who was cleared in 2015 after three years on police bail and an 11-week criminal trial, said: “At the height of the Operation Elveden fiasco, Trevor put his career on the line to use his Sun column to defend those like me who had been seized by police just for doing their jobs – revealing scandals the public deserved to know about.

“Trevor said the dawn raids and intimidatory Met tactics meant we were treated ‘like an organised crime gang’ and warned that precious press freedoms going back centuries were being destroyed while politicians celebrated. What made Trevor’s outburst so brave was that his, and our, own employer News Corp had been co-operating with the Met in the wake of the News of the World debacle.

“Trevor’s intervention became a defining point. The rest of Fleet Street, and foreign media, woke up to the madness of mass arrests of British journalists for doing their jobs. And it made a big impression on Rupert Murdoch too.

“In the months and years that followed, Trevor camped out at the Old Bailey, never leaving the side of his colleagues until jury after jury found us all not guilty. He sat by distraught wives, fetched sandwiches, encouraged his innocent friends as they faced months or years in prison. His was the first hand I shook as I walked from my own dock a free man.

“It was not all celebrations. Trevor was deeply affected by the death of his great friend John Kay, the legendary Sun chief reporter whose career and life were destroyed by his Elveden ordeal.

“Wonderful tributes will rightly come Trevor’s way as a political giant of Fleet Street. But let’s hail his courage on behalf of all journalists too. The free Press never had a braver or more principled champion.”

Former Sun editor David Yelland called Kavanagh: “The greatest political editor of his era”.

Former News of the World editor Piers Morgan said: “I worked with Trevor many years ago on The Sun he was brilliant then, he’s remained brilliant. One of the true greats of Fleet Street.”

Sun on Sunday political editor Kate Ferguson said: “So clever, with an absolute wealth of political knowledge, and so generous with his time and expertise.

“Everyone worth their salt in politics reads him. We will miss him massively.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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  • Head of Department/Function
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