Daily Reporter of the Year
Scroll down to meet the nominees for Daily Reporter of the Year, sponsored by Luther Pendragon.
The category for daily newspaper reporters who provide the heart and soul of any newspaper. The judges will be looking for well-researched exclusives brilliantly told. Tenacity, flair, investigative skill and an ability to handle difficult subjects carefully will score highly.
Amy Fenton, The Mail, Cumbria
Having initially made contact with NHS whistle-blower Peter Duffy last August after reporting on his employment tribunal I immediately identified that there was potential for the concerns he was raising to be much more wide-reaching than perhaps even he anticipated.
At the time there was very little public support for Mr Duffy; he was viewed by the hospital trust as a ‘trouble-maker’, but as we began to communicate more it became apparent that the issues he flagged up in his tribunal could still be ongoing.
We began to publish a series of articles based on specific incidents which he said had occurred within the urology department relating to three consultant urologists.
Shortly after the first few articles, having established a relationship with the General Medical Council and Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service, they tipped me off about restrictions being imposed on one of the consultants – Kavinder Madhra. This was a pivotal moment in my investigation.
From this point on, I continued to work closely with Peter, not least because of the very technical medical jargon involved, and helped him to edit his book, Whistle in the Wind, which was published in July 2019.
Over the last six months I have been approached by more than 35 patients/families who have reported genuine concerns of medical negligence; some of the most serious involving patient deaths. The regularity of these contacts coming forwards to me continues to grow and my investigation has led to the hospital trust accepting the issues are not just historical and moving away from their insistence that lessons had been learned.
I then contacted four MPs covering the trust’s areas to make them aware of the extent of the problems.
Barrow MP John Woodcock discussed my investigation in the House of Commons, praising the work undertaken by myself to highlight new cases and to hold the trust to account.
The four MPs then jointly wrote a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock calling for a public inquiry on the same lines as the Kirkup Report.
My investigation, and work with Peter has featured on Smooth FM, North West Tonight, Granada Reports and other national news agencies. To date I have published more than 40 articles over the last 12 months.
The government has since announced an independent inquiry. The inquiry team’s first step was to meet with me so I can work alongside them. The inquiry team are highly-experienced in NHS investigations and have said this is the first time they have worked with an investigative reporter in this way.
I spend a considerable amount of my own time (most evenings and many weekends given the geographical reach and the need to meet with patients) carrying out research, interviewing people involved, and tracking down the three consultants implicated.
My investigation has also led to two investigations being launched by the GMC and many of the patients and families involved have thanked me for my doggedness in seeking justice and the truth on their behalf.
Amy’s dogged pursuit of truth in her investigative work on the Morecambe Bay NHS is testament to her journalistic skills. Her stories helped uncover serious failings and, one hopes, should lead to real change.
Persistence the key here for Amy whose diligence and championing of whistleblower Peter Duffy had tangible repercussions in the NHS
Connor Lynch, Grimsby Telegraph
I love reporting in Grimsby. Originally from Northern Ireland, the Grimsby Telegraph was my first paper. It’s a great patch, with stories to tell and people to talk to.
But I prefer to dig deeper into the community to find the stories that resonate with our readers, inform them and surprise them. I also look to hold authorities to account. The core of what we do at the Telegraph is to represent our readers.
I believe the stories I have picked for 2019 are examples of this kind of work.
In September 2019 I received a tentative approach from someone saying they wanted to speak to us about serious problems in social care in Grimsby and North East Lincolnshire.
I gained this person’s trust and was able to continue communicating with them as they provided detail about issues in the service, supported by documents and case studies.
The person, closely linked to social services in our area, agreed to be a whistleblower and in October after extensive research and multiple interviews, we published a series of damning reports into how children were being exposed to neglect, abuse and violence. Pressures on resources and poor management had led to serious failings in how children were being protected.
The following month, the director of children’s services at North East Lincolnshire Council left the authority. In the same month, Ofsted published its own highly critical report into the services supporting all our evidence and stating that a large number of children were ‘actively at risk’. North East Lincolnshire Council has promised to take urgent action to improve the service.
Filthy Home where five children live:
I was contacted by a woman who said she has serious concerns over the welfare of her five children who were in the care of her daughter. She had repeatedly highlighted her concerns to social services but no action had been taken. The woman’s relationship with her daughter had broken down and she looked to us for help.
The woman had mentioned that the house were the children were was filthy and dangerous. She agreed to provide us with photographs and we published the story using the pictures to show the extent of the problem. As a result social services promised to take urgent steps to ensure the children were safe.
Litter warden whistleblower:
One of the big talking points in Grimsby in 2019 was the deployment of private litter wardens by the local council. It quickly became apparent that the litter wardens were using dubious methods to secure very large fines from members of the public.
After running a series of stories highlighting these issues, I was contacted by a litter warden who had resigned as he was unhappy with the tactics being used by the private contractor employed by the council. This included targeting people for the most minor of offences, following them and harassing them to ensure wardens could hit targets set by the contractor on fines to be levied.
A great example of what a terrific reporter should do – exposing the plight of hundreds of children in care and forcing the resignation of the council chief.
Joe Thomas, Liverpool Echo
There can be few subjects closer to the heart and soul of any newsroom’s readership than the Hillsborough disaster is to those who turn to the Liverpool ECHO.
So when the police officer who oversaw the tragedy faced a trial, then re-trial, for the manslaughter of the men, women and children who died, it was crucial the ECHO led the coverage.
For 17 weeks of 2019 I reported on the prosecution of David Duckenfield through live blogs and daily print overviews.
The updates, often written through tears, were crucial to the families of the 96 victims, survivors and the campaigners who could not attend court.
They were also followed by a defence team hoping to claim any error would prejudice what was, arguably, the most sensitive case in modern British history.
Knowing the coverage was so important to so many, and any mistake could throw a 30-year justice campaign into jeopardy, was terrifying.
Yet no legal complaint was received over my work, including blogs that gained hundreds of thousands of page views and finished among the ECHO’s most-read pieces of 2019.
When proceedings concluded it was down to me to explain the outcome.
Having been the only reporter present for every day of both trials and every case management hearing, often addressing the court on behalf of the media, no-one was better-placed to do this.
When Duckenfield was cleared, I revealed details of controversial defence tactics and the behind-the-scenes drama that led to a juror’s dismissal.
It was also down to me to act as a voice for our readers following the heart-breaking verdict.
The examples I have submitted are a fraction of my coverage but, I hope, show unrivalled yet sensitive coverage of a major topic online and in print.
Hillsborough is close to my heart and dominates my entry.
But as crime reporter I had to maintain a grip on Merseyside’s underworld and I continued to catalogue its biggest stories.
One of those centred on British crime’s most-used gun, a weapon I gained intimate knowledge of over the years of its use.
The backgrounder submitted here was an attempt to harness that and tell the story of Linked Series Four in an innovative way, setting it apart from national rivals and earning plaudits from readers and fellow journalists.
In 2019 I extended my hunt for exclusives abroad and gained access to Dutch court judgements. This led to me breaking stories others simply could not compete with.
One with national implications was the revelation judges in the Netherlands were refusing to extradite suspects because they believed conditions at HMP Liverpool were inhumane.
This scoop, knocked from the front page by a late breaking story, caused uproar and eventually gained me rare access as MoJ bosses scrambled to show me the struggling jail was improving.
Inquiries, reports, campaigns and now trials. This reporter has been on the Hillsborough tragedy story every step of the way. This time he provided online and print reports of the trial, retrial and acquittal of the senior police officer on duty on the tragic day. Top class reporting.
Stand-out effort. Not only in the contacts and empathy shown with the readers but through the modern mediums used. The delivery of the story of the gun used in 16 shootings completely bowled me over but Joe also showed sensitive treatment of the Hillsborough trial and a cracking news story about the Dutch refusing to extradite to HMP Liverpool. Top class
Kelly Williams, Daily Post
When Ruthin School Principal Toby Belfield was allowed to keep his job after arrogantly sending flirtatious messages to teenage pupils, it set in train a Daily Post investigation that would ultimately lead to his downfall.
It also prompted serious questions about governance and accountability at independent schools across Wales.
Mr Belfield, the outspoken head of North Wales’ top boarding school, was initially suspended last May when the messages first came to light – sparking a safeguarding investigation by the school, police and the council.
But only Ruthin School’s governing body had the power to sack him – and in September he returned to his job.
Furious, his main accuser 16-year-old Cat Hughes contacted me directly having seen previous stories I’d written about Mr Belfield’s controversial views.
She shared hundreds of Instagram messages sent to her by the married headteacher and days of painstaking investigations followed.
When we first published our exclusive investigation in September, Mr Belfield’s identity (along with the school’s) was withheld much to our frustration, due to a controversial law that protects the anonymity of accused teachers.
The following days saw us reveal messages to other pupils along with anonymous interviews with the girls concerned.
Mr Belfield clung on to his job but our investigations set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power.
In November, inspectors carried out unannounced visits to the school culminating in two damning reports.
Wales’ Education Minister also warned the school to sack him or face possible closure.
We finally unmasked Mr Belfield in January – followed by an exclusive interview with Cat.
Days later he was sacked and the chair of governors resigned.
The investigation earned the Daily Post many plaudits – not least from Cat whose age and delicate mental state we never lost sight of.
After months of approaches, the family of missing Anglesey man Tony Haigh finally agreed to an interview.
Convinced he was murdered, they told how they were ‘hitting a brick wall’ with police.
They were initially reluctant to go public through fear of jeopardising the investigation.
But when they discovered Tony’s disappearance was being treated as suicide despite evidence to the contrary, they broke their silence.
Our story called for answers from police and our follow-up months later told the force admitted they had let the family down.
Tony’s disappearance is now being treated as a murder case, details of which we are unable to report yet.
After Cindy Burke’s son, 20-year-old Anthony was murdered during a snowball fight in 2009, we struck up a relationship and remained in touch.
I arranged to see her ahead of the 10th anniversary and discovered she was preparing to celebrate Christmas for the first time since his death.
In the emotional interview, Cindy told how she’d gone from counting the years since Anthony died to counting how many years his killer has left in prison.
She expressed thanks for our sensitive handling of the case and was grateful Anthony had not been forgotten.
Great digging to uncover the sinister texts from a teacher to his pupils – and also the tenacity to consistently challenge the school over its lack of action. And so getting a result
Kelly’s work on exposing the full extent of Toby Belfield’s behaviour, involving as it did winning the trust of several victims, is impressive.
Liam Thorp, Liverpool Echo
As the political editor of a major regional news organisation like the Liverpool Echo, I have a responsibility to set our news agenda and provide the biggest and most important stories, political exclusives and investigations in the region.
My biggest story of the year was the national exclusive on Stephen Smith – a six-stone, desperately ill Liverpool man who was judged fit for work and cruelly and repeatedly denied benefits.
The original story and the harrowing images of Stephen achieved more than 100,000 page views in just one day and made its way into titles across the world – including a stunning Echo splash.
My campaigning work on Stephen’s case led to the Department of Work and Pensions paying him back more than £4,000 they had wrongly denied him and led to an entire departmental review which forced then Secretary of State Amber Rudd to admit that major mistakes were made.
Sadly the money arrived too late for Stephen who succumbed to his illnesses – it was instead used to pay for his funeral.
My work on Stephen’s case helped me to win Reporter of the Year and Story of the Year at the 02 Media Awards in October.
As more evidence of my tenacious and investigative reporting this year I have submitted a long-running and complex case surrounding a crisis-hit school in Wirral, Merseyside.
I first became aware through a contact that the headteacher, operations director and chair of governors had all suddenly left St John Plessington Catholic College on the same day and I broke this news with a stunning splash and an online story that brought in a remarkable 60,000 page views.
I refused to be fobbed off by the vague explanations given by the Trust as to why the senior management team had all left and went searching for answers.
Through months of work, speaking to a host of whistle-blowers and looking through hundreds of documents I exposed a scandal of bullying and financial mismanagement which has created chaos at the school and the academy trust that runs it.
Another national exclusive story that I developed and broke this year was the remarkable situation regarding Liverpool’s Lord Mayor.
Contacts tipped me off that Lord Mayor Peter Brennan was potentially being looked at for sharing a racist video in a private messaging group.
After plenty of digging and some off the record chats I confronted the city council with my information and pushed them into taking action.
In an unprecedented move, Mr Brennan was stripped of his civic position having only been sworn in a few months earlier.
What made the story more remarkable was that I broke the news of his sharing of the racist clip on the anniversary of the racist murder of black Merseyside teenager Anthony Walker, whose memorial foundation Mr Brennan was actually a trustee of.
My continued reporting and pressure saw Cllr Brennan forced to step down from his role with the charity as well as from the city council and Labour Party.
Major, much followed-up exclusives, based on gritty investigation and resulting in wrongs being righted.
The high quality of Liam’s work is perhaps demonstrated by his breaking the shocking story of six stone Stephen Smith. This was not only a harrowing individual case – it also raised important wider issues of nationwide significance.
Martyn McLaughlin, The Scotsman
From detailing how Donald Trump’s private businesses have received tens of thousands of pounds from his own administration, to exposing the “sweetheart” deal his flagship Scottish firm struck with the UK Government, and the US president’s failed helicopter charter business, my investigations into the Trump Organisation throughout 2019 have been followed up by the likes of the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Newsweek. Cumulatively, they have attracted 286,268 page views to date, with 263,519 visitors spending 285,182 engaged minutes reading them, demonstrating how The Scotsman can lead the way in breaking internationally significant stories.
Having built up a network of contacts at Trump’s Scottish and US businesses, I have been able to produce off-diary stories which are of international public interest. These included an exclusive into how Trump is paying just £100 a month to a UK Government public body to lease buildings at the iconic Turnberry lighthouse, while charging guests £1,400 a night to stay at the landmark’s marble and gold-encrusted suite.
Through my contacts at Turnberry – Trump’s flagship international property – I learned that he did not actually own all of Turnberry. Using targeted Freedom of Information requests to the little known Northern Lighthouse Board, I obtained the lease signed by Trump’s son, Eric, which included details of the financial arrangements, described by one MSP as a “sweetheart deal” using a UK public asset to line Trump’s pockets.
My coverage included the latest article in an ongoing investigative series into how SLC Turnberry Limited – the company behind Turnberry – has received more than £75,000 to date from the US State Department, prompting accusations Trump’s private firms are profiting from his public office. .
Drawing on tip offs from contacts and data-driven analysis of US federal government spending databases. I was able to show the money was routed to Trump’s firm via the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the US Embassy in London, a trend transparency campaigners described as an example of how the US public is “effectively subsidising the president’s family business.”
Similarly, a senior contact alerted me to plans to rezone swaths of land around Turnberry to make way for luxury housing and villas. Drawing again on targeted FoI requests, I obtained correspondence and plans submitted to a local authority by architects enlisted by the Trump Organisation, and revealed how the ambitious proposals were ultimately rejected, spelling a major blow for the US president’s lossmaking and heavily indebted golf resort.
These articles, and others, produced over the year form part of an ongoing, methodical investigative process into Trump’s Scottish entities I launched in 2017. In addition to my print investigations, I produced bespoke digital treatments, including the likes of a digital graphic to accompany by story on Trump’s failed housing development. Cumulatively, these three stories alone have attracted 72,243 page views to date, with 66,514 unique visitors spending a total of 79.965 engaged minutes – or 55.5 days – reading them.
Martyn’s thorough investigative work into the nature of the Trump empire’s Scottish business interests, characterised by forensic use of paper trails and FOI requests, has produced a series of interesting and important exposes.
Only one story but what a story – tackling the President of the United States. Good contacts and great digging resulted in a compelling insight into the business dealings of the world’s most powerful man
These exposes of Donald Trump’s business dealings in Scotland would grace the pages of the nationals
Suzanne Breen, Belfast Telegraph
Last April, my world was turned upside down when one of my best friends, Lyra McKee, was shot dead in Derry by the New IRA. We had been speaking on the phone just hours before she was killed. I’ve tried since then to do her proud.
The first piece was written through tears, but I hope that’s a strength and not a weakness. I was aware that most of those writing about Lyra hadn’t actually known her. I wanted to bring the core of her being – her heart and soul – to readers.
The second article is a short analysis piece in response to the New IRA’s statement on Lyra’s murder. It aims to cut through the cant, and to expose the hypocrisy and heartlessness of those trying to justify the unjustifiable.
The third piece is an exclusive interview with Lyra’s sister, Nichola McKee Corner. It shows a family’s loss up close and personal. There was a danger of Lyra becoming an icon ‘up there’, out of reach of ordinary folk. That was the last thing she would have wanted.
The feature tells Lyra’s story from birth. Her childhood in a working-class Belfast home, and all the obstacles she overcame to become a journalist.
It’s the small details – Nichola wheeling her premature baby sister up and down the road in a navy polka dot pram, Lyra’s loathing of the confines of a First Communion dress – that are the strengths of the piece.
Nichola’s description of visiting Lyra in the morgue is very powerful. I wanted the article to convey the massive loss the family continue to live with after the national and international media has moved on – as is natural – to other stories.
I’ve reported on countless killings over the years in Northern Ireland. This one was different – the victim was someone I knew and loved. Never has it been so personal for me. I hope that I’ve done Lyra justice.
Suzanne skilfully captured and articulated the very human loss and tragedy of Lyra McKee’s murder through her interview with Nichola McKee.
This reporter was faced with the ordeal of covering the terrorist murder of a close friend. She produced a series of moving and sensitive stories, tributes to the victim, a credit to the reporter.