Ref NoOBS/1/1/4/1
TitlePapers of Sir Derek Mitchell
Extent3 boxes
Creator NameThe Observer Limited; Sir Derek Mitchell
DescriptionPapers concerning Derek Mitchell's role as an Independent Director of The Observer.
Admin HistoryDerek Mitchell was appointed as one of five Independent Directors of The Observer in 1981. The Independent Director's role was established after an enquiry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the purchase of The Observer by Lonrho, run by RW 'Tiny' Rowland. Observer staff were alarmed at the prospect of being owned by a company which had huge interests in mining in Africa, and feared that there would be conflicts of interest between the paper and company. There were also fears that journalists would be put under pressure to include stories favourable to Rowland's business interests.

The Commission eventually decided to allow Lonrho's purchase of The Observer, subject to the appointment of Independent Directors whose specific role would be to protect editorial freedom. After long negotiations over potential candidates, the first five Independent Directors appointed were Sir Derek Mitchell, Lord David Windlesham, William Kenneth Clark, Sir Geoffrey Cox and Dame Rosemary Murray.

Over the years of Lonrho's ownership of The Observer, the Independent Directors were indeed called upon to mediate between Observer staff and Lonrho over a number of disputes. The first of these occurred after The Observer editor, Donald Trelford, published an article accusing the Zimbabwean National Army, under the command of Robert Mugabe, of committing mass atrocities against civilians in the Matabeleland region of the country. Rowland, fearing the article would damage his commercial interests in the area, claimed Trelford had written the article without first attaing the facts, and sent a personal apology for the article to Mugabe himself. In the ensuing battle between Trelford and Rowland, the Independent Directors sided with Trelford, much to the anger and indignation of Rowland.

One of the most bitterly fought disputes during Lonrho's ownership occurred between The Observer and the Al-Fayed family over the purchase of Harrods department store. On 31 March 1990, The Observer published an unprecedented mid-week issue containing the results of a Department of Trade and Industry inquiry into the Harrods purchase, which supported Lonrho's accusations that the Al-Fayeds had lied about their financial backing. The Observer faced accusations that Lonrho had pressured its journalists into publishing the story in their favour, and although the contents of the report were eventually published vindicating the paper's stance, circulation numbers were damaged.

Rowland eventually sold the paper to The Guardian Media Group in April 1993, at which point Trelford resigned as editor. Mitchell also resigned as an Independent Director at this time.
Custodial HistoryDonated to the Archive by Sarah Roberts, daughter of Derek Mitchell, in July 2009.
System Of ArrangementArranged first into administrative files concerning appointment, payment and involvement in consultations of the Independent Directors, then chronologically by date of dispute the Directors were involved in resolving.
Access StatusOpen(part)
Access ConditionsAccess to lists of telephone numbers and personal addresses will remain closed in line with Data Protection Act 1998

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