KEN ASHTON, former general secretary of the National Union of Journalist and president of the International Federation of Journalists, has died at the age of 76.

Ken hailed from London and was educated at Latymer Upper School. He first came to know Scotland while serving in the army from 1942-46 when he attended a course at Glasgow University. During this period he worked several casual shifts as a sub-editor on the Daily Record.

In 1947 after his army service he returned south, and became a reporter on the Hampstead and Highgate Express, moving on between 1950 and 1958 to the Devon and Somerset News, Mansfield Reporter, and the Sheffield Star.

Ken then moved into national newspapers as a sub-editor, first with the Daily Express in London, and then the Daily Mail in Manchester, where he worked until 1975 when he was elected president of the NUJ.

His period as president was short-lived as he was appointed the union's full-time regional organiser based in Manchester where during his spare time he became a qualified glider pilot.

Two years later, he was elected general secretary. His election as the union's chief executive was a reward for 30 years of activity within the union.

He took up the position at a time when the union was riven with internal polities and many activists on the extreme left appeared to spend as much time attacking officials within the union as they did in arguing with bosses.

Ken did not have time to settle in his new role before the union became engaged in one of its largest official disputes in the provincial paper sector in England and Wales. There then followed a series of major disputes with the Nottingham Evening Post, Eddie Shah at Warrington, and the Dimbleby family newspapers. The latter dispute resulted in the union being found to be in contempt of court and in danger of having its funds sequestrated. This led to the union's executive officers having to take steps to have their funds transferred from the UK.

During these turbulent times in the UK, Ken was also a bureau member of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and in 1982 was elected president of that organisation.

While Ken was president of the IFJ (1982-86) the international body held its congress in the then North British Hotel in Edinburgh. He was a highly respected figure within the IFJ and the decision to hold the conference in Scotland and not closer to the NUJ's headquarters in London, reflected the fact that Ken was received more warmly by the NUJ membership in Scotland than the fractured union in the south, particularly around London.

Ken retired early from the union in 1985 and moved back to the North of England with his wife, Anne, who had always provided Ken with great support. They bought a cottage in a remote part of the North Yorkshire dales.

Ken was an active member of the rural community becoming a volunteer warden for the national park, leading guided walks and giving lectures on the countryside. He reared goats, planted an orchard, and restored furniture.

Tragedy struck the family a week before Ken died when his second son Mark died of a heart attack while in Croatia.

He is survived by Anne, his sons Paul, John, and Richard, and his grandchildren.

Kenneth Bruce Ashton,

journalist and trade unionists, born November 9, 1925, died September 2002.