Fleet Street legend Sir Harold Evans dies aged 92

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Tributes have poured in from campaigners, journalists and politicians following the death of Fleet Street legend Sir Harold Evans.

The former editor of The Sunday Times, who died in New York aged 92, was described as a “witty, charming, fiercely intelligent” man and a “true champion” of social justice.

Glen Harrison, a thalidomide survivor and deputy chairman of the campaign group Thalidomide UK, described him as  a “true warrior, a true champion for our cause”.

Sir Harold, who was also editor-at-large for the Reuters news agency, died of congestive heart failure, according to his wife of 40 years Tina Brown.

He rose through the newspaper industry with roles including assistant editor of the Manchester Evening News and, after a stint in the US, editor of The Northern Echo in Darlington.

Peter Barron, Northern Echo editor from 1999 to 2016, paid tribute to his predecessor, saying: “I was editor half a century later and the people of County Durham, North Yorkshire and Darlington still revered him.

“If I went to give a talk in the community, Harold Evans always came up, at Women’s Institutes, Townswomen’s Guilds and Rotary Clubs, somebody always had a memory of him.

“He made a lasting impression on the people of the North East because of his journalism.

“He changed the world, he believed in campaigning journalism and he also understood the importance of getting out and listening to people.”

Harold Evans
Sir Harold Evans and his wife Tina Brown (PA)

Sir Harold was renowned for his promotion of investigative journalism.

His most famous investigation involved thalidomide, a drug prescribed to expectant mothers for morning sickness which caused many thousands across the world to give birth to children with missing limbs, deformed hearts, blindness and other problems.

Sir Harold fought off a legal attempt by UK manufacturer Distillers – a major Sunday Times advertiser at the time – to stop the paper revealing that the drug’s developers had not gone through proper testing procedures.

And his campaign, launched in 1972, forced Distillers to increase the compensation received by victims.

Sir Harold Evans with a group of thalidomide victims at the premiere of Attacking The Devil
Sir Harold Evans with a group of thalidomide victims at the premiere of Attacking The Devil (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“A true gentleman and honestly we wouldn’t know where we would be without him, a really sincere loss and condolences to his family.”

Another thalidomide campaigner, Guy Tweedy, from Harrogate, also mourned the passing of a “dear friend”.

“He was an icon. The world’s greatest journalist, and Harry was, and will always remain, a hero of thalidomiders worldwide.

“What he did for thalidomide survivors and their families in the UK was enormous. He trod where no one else did.

“If it wasn’t for him fighting against the Establishment, and having the courage to expose this horrendous scandal, we would never have got any justice at all.”

Sir Harold Evans death
Thalidomide campaigner Guy Tweedy with Sir Harold Evans (Guy Tweedy/PA)

He was also conscious of the power of journalism and the media, saying: “The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to untruth.”

On his investigations, he once said: “I tried to do – all I hoped to do – was to shed a little light. And if that light grew weeds, we’d have to try and pull them up.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the passing of Sir Harold Evans “should remind us of the vital role the free press plays in our democracy”.

“He was a giant of investigative journalism, uncovering great injustices and informing the public without fear or favour,” he said.

“At a time our newspapers remain under serious pressure, we can all help #buyapaper.”

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