Boris and rachel Johnson with Evgeny Lebedev, centre
Evening Standard chairman Evgeny Lebedev, centre, with mayor Boris Johnson and his sister Rachel.

London's Evening Standard newspaper was under fire on several fronts as star columnist Brian Sewell criticised the "inexperience" of its editors and Charles Saatchi faced calls for the sack after assaulting his wife Nigella Lawson.

Journalists at the freesheet, which has a monopoly, said they were deeply troubled over the paper's editorial and strategic direction after its Russian owners announced a major restructuring plan to consolidate the jobs of 300 staff on one media platform.

Art dealer Saatchi's position as a columnist was thrown into doubt after he was cautioned by police for assaulting his wife outside a London restaurant.

"There are some deeply troubling issues here and some serious questions for the editors," one Evening Standard executive told IB Times UK.

Sewell, the veteran art critic, warned that the paper risked becoming a mouthpiece for London mayor Boris Johnson and made a series of withering remarks about the youth and inexperience of senior management.

Sewell, who has worked at the Standard for 29 years, criticised the paper's unwaveringly favourable coverage of the mayor.

"There is a danger that it becomes Boris's newspaper - his newssheet," said Sewell.

The newspaper, which is owned by Russian tycoon Alexander Lebedev, has backed Johnson in his two successful mayoral election campaigns.

Johnson and his sister Rachel frequently appear on the paper's society pages and are often photographed at parties with Evening Standard and Independent chairman Evgeny Lebedev, the playboy son of the owner.

Editor Sarah Sands has written a series of interviews with the mayor, in a tone described as "uncritical" by commentators.

Lebedev announced a major overhaul at the Standard and Independent group, including the appointment of two editors at sister papers the Independent and "i", and the "integration" of the work of 300 staff across print tiles, website and its planned London Live TV station.

The Standard was dragged into the controversy over domestic violence after Saatchi publicly assaulted Lawson, daughter of the former chancellor, Nigel Lawson.

As photographs of the incident appeared in the Sunday People, the former deputy prime minister John Prescott wrote to Sands saying: "I assume, as Evening Standard editor, you will be axing Charles Saatchi as one of your columnists."

Saatchi chose the Standard when he gave his side of the story and said the assault was merely "a playful tiff".

Sewell's remarks came after a lengthy interview with the mayor, written by Sands, ran under the headline "Boris Johnson: New role? I'm just a boy scout doing good deeds".

Sewell, writing in the UK Press Gazette, said of the paper's management: "My only problem with it is it is largely run by young and inexperienced people.

"It doesn't have any authority. There was a time when Members of Parliament were scared of the paper. What will the Evening Standard headline be if we do this? But that's going back 20 years or so. No longer does it have that sort of clout."

One senior journalist at the Standard told IB Times UK: "You are correct to have spotted some serious problems that have come up at the Standard.

"There are a lot of questions for the editor. The big one is - will Saatchi keep his job? Then she will need to answer the criticisms Sewell makes - because a lot of staff feel the same. A lot of people back what he's saying.

"It's all very well having high-profile friends like Saatchi and Boris. But what happens then when these same high-profile people do something questionable and as a newspaper you don't question it? How valuable then are you?"

Group content director Chris Blackhurst will be responsible for pooling the work of 300 journalists across The Independent, The i Paper (a 20p tabloid version of the struggling daily), the Standard and London Live.

Amol Rajan, aged 29, has been named editor of the Independent and Oliver Duff, also 29, appointed to head The i Paper. The editors will report to Evgeny Lebedev on editorial matters, the company announced.

Managing director Andrew Mullins warned staff that the company was "at the start of a considerable period of change and reorgansation".

Blackwell said: "My role is to make sure first of all that we integrate - that's not going to be easy. We are not going to do anything silly to affect the independence of each brand. That would be commercial suicide."