Staff at the newspaper were told the news yesterday.
The decision came in the wake of a row between Harry and the local MP Peter Mandelson, who is said to have tried to get the editor ousted following what he saw as unfavourable coverage.
Downing Street had denied claims that the Prime Minister intervened in a dispute between Mr Mandelson and the Mail. Johnston said it found the idea that political pressure could influence editorial policy or employment of editors “offensive”.
Nevertheless, Harry’s three-and-a-half year stint as editor is now over. He joined the paper as a compositor more than 30 years ago.
A statement from Johnston said: “Harry Blackwood, editor of the Hartlepool Mail, has been dismissed from his post with effect from 21 March 2003.
“The reasons for his dismissal are private between Mr Blackwood and his employers, Northeast Press Limited. Mr Blackwood is entitled to appeal this decision through internal procedures.”
Northeast Press editorial director Andrew Smith is currently acting editor.
The political row blew up when the Mail was accused of giving preferential treatment to a man in a monkey costume during the elections for a Hartlepool mayor – the monkey eventually defeating the Labour candidate.
The vote saw Hartlepool United mascot Stuart Drummond swept to power ahead of hot Labour favourite Leo Gillen – and as soon as a monkey had been declared the first elected mayor, the Hartlepool Mail was blamed for the main political parties’ electoral demise.
But insiders say there were other concerns about Harry’s leadership – about his impartiality and alleged lack of family newspaper values.
Editorial staff have been happy to support their editor – many signing a letter to Johnston Press protesting the handling of the situation. They also appeared at work wearing black in protest at his suspension earlier in the year.
Harry is understood to be planning to take the case to an employment tribunal but would not be fighting for reinstatement.
He told the Mail on Sunday last month: “I have been hounded out of my job because Peter Mandelson used his trusted combination of threats, abuse, smears and bullying to force me out for no other reason than he didn’t like some of the things printed about him in my newspaper.
“On one occasion he marched into the office and poked his finger into the chest of one of my young reporters and verbally abused him.
“He put me under constant pressure and when I refused to buckle, tried to bully my bosses at Johnston Press.”
Mr Mandelson wrote to the newspaper following the controversial election of football team mascot H’Angus the monkey as mayor, saying: “Mr Blackwood’s editorial views are driven by the dislikes and grudges he bears. This is completely unacceptable in a local newspaper.”
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