Tributes paid to former ‘Guardian’ editor Peter Preston

Oversaw succession of agenda-setting stories during 20-year tenure as editor

Former ‘Guardian’ editor Peter Preston, described by his successor Alan Rusbridger as a gritty and dogged innovator. Photograph: Ben Gurr/Times/PA Wire

Former ‘Guardian’ editor Peter Preston, described by his successor Alan Rusbridger as a gritty and dogged innovator. Photograph: Ben Gurr/Times/PA Wire

 

Fellow journalists were quick to pay tributes to former Guardian editor Peter Preston who died at the weekend, aged 79.

He was remembered as a warm person and an innovative and brave editor who in 1988 oversaw one of the most radical redesigns of a newspaper ever undertaken.

Preston was born in Leicestershire in 1938 and joined the Guardian in 1963 when it was still located in Manchester. He was editor between 1975 and 1995 and later went on to be a columnist for the Guardian and its Sunday sister, the Observer. He died at home on Saturday night, 10 years after melanoma first struck and 20 months after it returned.

Alan Rusbridger, who succeeded him as editor in 1995, remembered him as a gritty and dogged innovator who did not seek the company of politicians.

He tweeted: “V sad to learn of death of PJPrest. A bold, innovative, tough, humane & decent editor. He embodied the purpose & values of the Guardian & also worked tirelessly for journalists abroad. Sorely missed.”

‘Towering figure’

Mark Seddon described him as a “Great editor of a great newspaper and a fine internationalist,” Le Monde editorial director and columnist Sylvie Kauffmann pointed out that he “excelled at encouraging, spotting and rewarding the best journalism all over Europe” while Matthew d’Ancona said he was “a brilliant editor and a towering figure of British journalism: wise, kind and free-thinking.”

Preston edited the Guardian when foreign office clerk Sarah Tisdall was jailed for leaking secrets in 1983. Documents send to the newspaper anonymously revealed when cruise missiles would be placed at Greenham Common airbase.

The Guardian published the information and, under threat of being in contempt of court and facing unlimited fines, escalating daily, if it did not hand the documents over to a court, Preston did so, leading to the identification, and subsequent jailing, of Tisdall for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Preston regretted what he felt forced to do and, writing in the Irish Times in October 2007, said the only guaranteed way to protect a source in such instances was to “read and destroy” a document.

Among the agenda-setting stories during his tenure were the sleaze scandals which hit former prime minister John Major’s government, and the 1994 cash-for-questions affair in which MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith were said to have been paid to ask questions on behalf of Harrods boss Mohamed Al-Fayed. A libel case against the newspaper by Mr Hamilton was eventually dropped.

Investigative journalism into defence procurement minister Jonathan Aitken led to allegations that he took bribes from Saudi arms dealers, which resulted in the Conservative MP’s eventual imprisonment.