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Exclusive: Express editor Peter Hill on his amazing 50-year-career and his regret over Madeleine McCann

18 February 2011 By Dominic Ponsford

Peter Hill today edits his last edition of the Daily Express ending an amazing 50-year career in newspapers.

After starting on the Colne Valley Guardian in West Yorkshire straight out of school he worked his way up through the regional and national press to edit the Daily Star for five years between 1998 and 2003 (rapidly growing its circulation at a time when other redtops were flagging).

He has edited the Daily Express for the last seven years.

In an interview with Press Gazette this week he spoke about his pride at his achievements at the Star and Daily Express, but also voiced his regret over coverage of the Madeleine McCann disappearance which resulted in a record libel payout.

In March 2008 all four Express Newspapers national titles printed front-page apologies after a 550,000 out of court settlement following many articles which implied that Gerry and Kate McCann were to blame for the disappearance of their three-year-old daughter from Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007.

Asked whether he had any regrets about the coverage, Hill said: "The fact of the matter is that the McCanns could have sued any of the British media. All the British media went crazy about the story because it was such an amazing story.

"You could say that all the media had to some extent fallen for the leaks that were put out by the Portuguese police and the Portuguese authorities.

"While I regret that we printed those hurtful things about the McCanns ' it was not done with any malice at all.

"As you see from the recent Beckham case, in the United States there would have been no case for libel because there was no question of malice."

During an in-depth interview, which will appear in full only in the March edition of Press Gazette magazine, Hill was also asked about his proudest achievements as an editor and journalist.

He said: "I made an enormous success of the Daily Star when I was editor for five years ' we doubled the sales and I was voted editor of the year in 2002 by a What the Papers Say panel of which I was very proud and still am.

"I found new ways I think of keeping the readers interested day after day by covering the stories I'd found that they were interested in. On a tabloid paper that was clearly more showbiz material, television oriented material, it doesn't really matter what it is as long as you find it."

He said: 'In my time I've dealt with pretty much all the big stories that you can think of from the Aberfan disaster to the assassination of President Kennedy, the Falklands War, the Space Shuttle disaster, the Gulf Wars, 9/11, 7/7. I think that I've always done a good job with those things at whatever level I was at.'

Hill, who turns 66 in April, has been a hands-on editor who insists on making the front page himself, and whose working day can run from 7am in the morning to 12.30am in the evening. He goes home after the first edition has gone to press at around 8.30pm, but ensures that the newsdesk emails him the first edition coverage of rival papers so that he can advise on any changes which need to be made to the paper overnight.

Paying tribute to his colleagues Hill, who is being succeeded as Daily Express editor by his long-serving deputy Hugh Whittow, said: 'We've had a lot of laughs. We've all worked very hard. They've given me fantastic support. When you're editor that is the most important thing because you can't do it on your own.

'I'm really proud of the fact I've been able to persuade my colleagues to work very hard with me'. I think we are all in this business together and we work together every single day of our lives to produce this newspaper.

"We are all very proud of this newspaper and I'm proud of everyone I've been involved with. Those are the things that matter.'


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