Legendary newspaper editor Harold Evans dies aged 92

London (AFP) –

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Crusading British newspaper editor Harold Evans has died in New York aged 92, his wife Tina Brown said Thursday, prompting a flood of tributes.

UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, whose brief includes media, described Evans a "giant of investigative journalism", a reputation he established at the helm of the Sunday Times.

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, paid tribute to Evans, who died of congestive heart failure on Wednesday.

"Sir Harold Evans was a giant among journalists who strove to put the ordinary man and woman at the heart of his reporting.

"He took on the establishment without fear or favour and earned a deserved reputation as one of the world's greatest editors.

"In his 70 years as a journalist he never lost sight of the need to maintain integrity in our profession. He was a true champion of a free press and holding the powerful to account," Murray said.

Stephen J Adler, editor-in-chief of the international news agency Reuters, where Evans worked as editor at large from 2011, said "his example will continue to guide us".

Evans' most famous expose was on the birth defects caused by the drug thalidomide, which eventually led to compensation payouts for the victims.

Glen Harrison, a thalidomide survivor and deputy chairman of the campaign group Thalidomide UK, called him "an outstanding human being for our cause" and a "true gentleman".

"We wouldn't know where we would be without him," he said.

Campaigner Guy Tweedy said: "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."

"All I tried to do -- all I hoped to do -- was to shed a little light," Evans recalled in an interview with the Independent in 2014.

"And if that light grew weeds, we've have to try and pull them up."

- 'Basic passion' -

Under Evans' tenure from 1967 to 1981, the Sunday Times also revealed that British intelligence agent Kim Philby was a double agent working for the Soviet Union.

He also published the diaries of a former government minister, Richard Crossman, despite risking prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

Evans had humble roots, growing up in a working-class family near Manchester, northwest England, and beginning his career at the regional publication the Manchester Evening News.

He edited his first newspaper at the age of 32, the Northern Echo, in northeast England where he had attended university at Durham, before moving on to Fleet Street in London.

He called journalism his "basic passion" and summed up his own philosophy to the profession by saying "attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and clichés."

Evans left the Sunday Times in 1981 to become editor of sister paper The Times when media mogul Rupert Murdoch took over.

But his time there was short-lived, and he only led the paper for a year after falling out with the owner in a row about editorial independence.

He also once said he was sacked because of his consistent attacks on Margaret Thatcher, the then-prime minister.

Evans and his second wife Tina Brown then moved to the United States, where he taught at Duke University and became editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly Press.

He was also appointed president and publisher of Random House, editing authors including Maya Angelou, and wrote several best-selling books, including "The American Century" in 1998 and "They Made America" in 2004.

Tina Brown was also a respected media boss, rejuvenating Vanity Fair in the 1980s and The New Yorker in the 1990s, with the couple earning a reputation as mainstays of the New York politics and party scenes.

Evans, who was knighted in 2004 for his services to journalism, is survived by his children, Isabel, Georgie, Ruth, Michael and Kate.