Sir Harold Evans: Crusading newspaper editor dies aged 92

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Former Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans has died at the age of 92, the Reuters news agency has reported.

The British-American journalist, who led an investigation into the drug Thalidomide, died of heart failure in New York, his wife Tina Brown said.

His 70-year career also saw him work as a magazine founder, book publisher, author and – at the time of his death – Reuters’ editor-at-large.

Sir Harold was editor of the Sunday Times for 13 years.

He then went on to become the founding editor of Conde Nast Traveller magazine and later president of the publishing giant, Random House.

One of Britain and America’s best-known journalists, Sir Harold also wrote several books about the press and in 2003 was given a knighthood for his services to journalism.

A year earlier, a poll by the Press Gazette and the British Journalism Review named him the greatest newspaper editor of all time.

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Sir Harold Evans was appointed editor-at-large at the Reuters news agency in 2011

Sir Harold forged his reputation as editor of the Northern Echo in the 1960s, where his campaigns resulted in a national screening programme for cervical cancer and a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans, wrongly hanged for murder in 1950.

During his tenure as editor of the Sunday Times, his notable campaigns included fighting the Distillers Company for greater compensation for the victims of Thalidomide.

But he said campaigns should be selective, and he deplored what he saw as the invasion of privacy by the British tabloid press.

Thalidomide, which first appeared in the UK in 1958, was prescribed to expectant mothers to control the symptoms of morning sickness.

However, hundreds of these mothers in Britain, and many thousands across the world, gave birth to children with missing limbs, deformed hearts, blindness and other problems.

Sir Harold’s campaign, launched in 1972, eventually forced the UK manufacturer, Distillers Company – at the time the Sunday Times’s biggest advertiser – to increase the compensation received by victims.

He also fought a legal injunction to stop the paper revealing the drug’s developers had not gone through the proper testing procedures.

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Sir Harold and his second wife Tina Brown pictured in 1989, after their move to New York City

Journalists paid tribute to his campaigning work on the Thalidomide scandal and other injustices. Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror, said he was an “inspiring editor” who “embodied the best of journalism”.

Author Robert Harris told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Sir Harold was an outsider coming in to the Sunday Times, the “son of a railway man who wanted to take on the establishment”.

“He believed in ordinary people and that newspapers could stand up for them. He saw newspapers as instruments of social justice on their behalf,” Mr Harris said.

“He really was the great British post-war journalist, no question.”

The BBC’s John Simpson called Sir Harold a “magnificent editor, a wise counsellor and a good and inspiring friend”.

‘A giant of investigative journalism’

Former Financial Times editor Lionel Barber described him as “a brilliant, generous newspaperman and mentor, the finest editor of his generation”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “He was a giant of investigative journalism – uncovering great injustices and informing the public without fear or favour.”

Sir Harold edited the Times, but after a public falling-out with Rupert Murdoch, left with his second wife, Tina Brown, for New York.

There she edited Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, while he became founding editor of Conde Nast magazine and later president of Random House.

In 2011, at the age of 82, Sir Harold was appointed editor-at-large at Reuters, the organisation’s editor-in-chief describing him as “one of the greatest minds in journalism”.

Sir Harold was born on 28 June 1928 in Eccles, Lancashire, now in Greater Manchester, the son of Welsh parents.