Scoop of the Year

Scroll down to meet the nominees for Regional Press Awards Scoop of the Year – sponsored by Cision. The judges shortlisted the story or series of stories that everyone else wished they had broken. 

The Shortlist

Brave daughter saved my life in knife attack, Derby Telegraph

Supporting Statement:

Challenging a judge’s decision to reveal the full details of an emotive and harrowing criminal case is one of the most difficult parts of court reporting.

However, Nick Reid’s tenacity, perseverance and knowledge of the law system allowed him to persuade a crown court judge to lift an order banning him from reporting a sensitive case.

This tale is about fear, pain and love as a brave young girl stepped forward to save her mother from her knife-wielding stepfather.

While performing well online, Nick also put it together as a front page and spread to show the severity of the incident, its emotional impact and the punishment for carrying out such a heinous crime.

But it was a story that would never have seen the light of day, had Nick not won his battle to tell it.

From the second the prosecution started, the horrifying ordeal was revealed.

What made this so powerful though was the heroics of the teenage daughter who stepped between her mother and the assailant to save her life.

Nick secured an interview with the victim and obtained emotive quotes, along with powerful pictures of her injuries and a chilling video of the blood-stained aftermath of the victim’s home.

However, the judge made an order under section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, banning media from identifying the heroic teenager.

This was a problem. No identity of the girl meant no identity of the mother, meaning none of the detail about the case, the pictures or the video could be used.

As well as obtaining the interview and the images, Nick also persuaded the mother, daughter and police officer in the case to sign waivers stating they were happy for the order to be lifted.

It took ten days of negotiations, patience and dogged determination to get these signed statements put together ready to be presented to the judge.

Next step was to approach the judge. By handing up a note to the usher, Nick was invited to speak to him in his chambers.

With all the evidence in hand, his emotive quotes as well as all the pictures and video he pitched to the judge why he should lift the order.

Seeing all the work Nick had put in to tell this story and the fact that the victim and her daughter were happy to be included, the judge decided to amend the order.

This allowed Nick to craft the story and tell it in its entirety.

The piece went national appearing on many outlets in Britain and across the world.

This story showed the terror of knife crime, but that a daughter’s love for her mother is more powerful than any knife-wielding thug.

Overall, with his tenacity and perseverance, Nick is able not only writes court proceedings in an accessible and engaging way, but has the bravery to stand up to the court to ensure the full story is told.

Few journalists have so much drive to tell the full story.

Judges’ Comments:  

A triumph for court reporting, the public interest and reporting and the victims.

Evil Eyes, Sunday Life

Supporting Statement:

In the weeks that followed the tragic murder of journalist Lyra McKee, Sunday Life worked tirelessly to unmask those at the centre of the organisation responsible – the New IRA and its Saoradh political wing. We were the first media outlet after the killing to expose Thomas Mellon and his henchmen. Other newspapers and broadcasters followed suit and using that information the BBC later won praise for doorstepping Mellon and some of his followers outside Derry courthouse where they had been facing illegal parade charges. It was our role in exposing them which led to this and other media investigations into them, including a special half hour BBC Spotlight programme. Since the murder of Lyra those named by us as being part of the dissident republican movement in Derry have been at the centre of several police investigations, faced numerous arrests and the PSNI is continuing to investigate several for their involvement in the events which led to Lyra’s death.

Judges’ Comments:  

A scoop that cuts to the heart of a big story but also took courage to write and publish.

Brave and fearless journalism to expose those behind the New IRA following the death of Lyra McKee. All involved should be proud of their work in a category of the highest standard. 

LGBT equality protests at Birmingham schools, BirminghamLive

Supporting Statement:

A story about two mums who didn’t want their young kids to be told it was “okay to be gay” was the catalyst for what became the issue of the year in Birmingham and beyond.

That moment of personal protest triggered a campaign at the gates of two city primary schools, debates in Parliament, two high court cases and, ultimately, the dramatic downfall of a long serving MP.

Birmingham Live led the way at every turn. We were first with all of the major interviews, first with every development, and often the only ones to pursue alternative lines of inquiry.

We told this story sensitively and with a real sense of care for our communities that we believe shines out in our coverage. 

A combination of brilliant local contacts and local knowledge contributed to our story-telling. 

But what made our coverage special were the contacts we built up and nurtured through its telling – on all sides of the debate. Even our most vociferous opponent (and occasionally some comments tipped into personal abuse) would come to us first, knowing they would get a fair go. This was hugely important to us.

This was a story we broke first; an old-fashioned traditional scoop for News Reporter Ashley Preece, whose well-honed community contacts called him when word got out of conflict at a city primary. 

He pursued the story carefully, mindful of the cultural sensitivities it threw up and then, when the spotlight turned to a second school, it was picked up and pursued there by Politics and People Editor Jane Haynes.

We have explored all viewpoints in this fascinating story of faith, diversity, power, multiculturalism, sexuality and sin, building a network of trusted contacts and intimate interviews, even in the face of considerable challenge and personal abuse.

We got eyes onto the stories – more than 1.2 million of them at least – and along the way we have looked at our role as a community news organisation in the heart of a multicultural, diverse city, and recognised the need to do more to break down barriers and share insights between cultures and faiths. 

This story has changed our city and some of its relationships – deepening some, further dividing others. 

There have been winners and losers – among the biggest losers was city Labour MP Roger Godsiff, whose support for the protest leaders led to his deselection and ultimately cost him his seat in Parliament. We were first with those stories too. 

Throughout our coverage, we were mindful of the impact on the community close to the school and of those emotionally affected by the issue, so only reported new developments. Vitally for us, we also did not feature any identifiable children involved in the protests in our stories, images or videos, even when we had the explicit permission of parents.

We are proud of the tone and the content of our story-telling and thank the people of Birmingham for their support.

The timeline attached gives an insight into the depth of coverage.

Judges’ Comments:  

An agenda-setting story from start to finish.

Senior teacher bombarded pupil, 15 with flirty messages, Daily Post

Supporting Statement:

When Ruthin School Principal Toby Belfield was allowed to keep his job after arrogantly sending highly flirtatious messages to teenage pupils, it set in train a Daily Post investigation that would ultimately lead to his downfall, writes reporter Kelly Williams.

It would also prompt 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 in May last year when the allegations first came to light – sparking a safeguarding investigation by the school, police and the county council.

But only Ruthin School’s governing body had the power to sack Mr Belfield – and in September he was ushered back to head up the £35,000-a-year school.

Furious that the case had been swept under the carpet, his main accuser, 16-year-old Cat Hughes contacted me directly to tell her story having seen previous stories I’d written about Mr Belfield’s controversial views.

She shared with me hundreds of Instagram messages sent to her by the married headteacher.

Days of painstaking investigations followed. Evidence gathering, trawling through screenshots and in-depth interviews were all needed to convince our lawyers we were ready to publish.

But there was one final hurdle – the controversial law that protects the anonymity of teachers when accused by pupils.

We were certain of the authenticity of the messages but the lawyers feared we could fall foul of the untested law should Mr Belfield subsequently face a criminal investigation.

Morally repugnant as his actions were, when we finally published on September 11 last year – his identity (and with it the school’s) was withheld to the frustration of ourselves and particularly Cat.

The following days saw us reveal messages to other pupils along with anonymous interviews with the girls concerned.

Sir clung on to his job but our investigations, covered by national newspapers, set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power.

In November, the Care Inspectorate Wales and the Welsh schools watchdog, Estyn, carried out unannounced visits to the school culminating in two damning reports highlighting major safeguarding concerns. Then, in a thinly veiled threat, the Welsh Education Minister warned the school to sack him or face possible closure.

The lawyers were now comfortable with naming Mr Belfield and he was finally unmasked in January – followed by a full exclusive interview with Cat in which she bravely revealed how the ordeal had ruined her life.

Days later, Mr Belfield was sacked and pressure mounted on the governors who had so perversely stood by him. Four days later their chair was replaced.

The exclusive investigation earned the Daily Post plaudits among parents, the community, politicians and most of all Cat. Never did we lose sight of her age and delicate mental state and she remained behind us all the way.

Speaking in the Welsh Assembly, Llyr Gruffydd AM said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Kelly Williams of the Daily Post for an old-fashioned scoop that brought this issue to the wider public and to help bring matters to a head.”

Judges’ Comments:  

A brilliant investigation entirely in the public interest and in the face of legal and ethical issues that were considered along the way…and achieved a result worthy of their doggedness in the face of a cover up.

A powerful man taking advantage of a child in his care as a schoolmaster but eventually brought down by excellent journalism.

Stephen Smith – The Six Stone Man, Liverpool Echo

Supporting Statement:

This year I have broken a string of huge, national exclusive stories that have shaped news agendas across the country – including this unmissable expose of the human cost of our failing benefits system.

The harrowing case of Stephen Smith was my biggest and most important story of the year and one of the biggest for the Liverpool ECHO in some time, writes Liam Thorp.

I was first alerted to an image of Stephen’s emaciated six-stone body when scouring social media and after some detailed investigations I managed to track him down.

I sat with Stephen and those who were supporting him for a long time and could not believe that a man with such ill health had been turned down for vital benefits and had actually been forced to get a pass out of hospital to take on the DWP in a tribunal.

My initial exclusive story pulled an enormous number of page views – more than 100,000 in total – created a stunning front-page splash and was replicated in pretty much every national and regional title in the country. 

Stephen’s plight was raised by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn among others following my expose.

After my article and subsequent dogged pressure on the DWP, the department agreed to refund the benefits that Stephen had been denied for two years – meaning that an extra £4,000 would be paid to the struggling Liverpool man. This felt like a major achievement and I was proud that my journalism had brought out this result.

Sadly, before he could use that money Stephen, who had been ill for some time, died.

Since his tragic passing I have relentlessly pursued justice for Stephen, accessing and publishing doctor’s notes that warned of his condition and were ignored by the DWP – and calling on the then Secretary of State, Amber Rudd to hold an inquiry.

I sought the help of Work and Pensions committee chair Frank Field MP to finally push Ms Rudd into holding this review – and she was forced to admit publicly that mistakes were made in Stephen’s case.

My work on Stephen’s case has spanned many months and included numerous exclusive stories, investigative work and powerful, thought-provoking columns.

Judges’ Comments:  

A story of blunders with at its heart a vulnerable man aided by a dogged reporter, a fearless MP and a newspaper determined to tell an important story.

A very powerful scoop…extremely well researched and reported.

Why police commissioner quit, Cambs Times / Ely Standard

Supporting Statement:

It was the story from Cambridgeshire every wanted – police and crime commissioner suddenly quits and a wall of silence. We knew his resignation had prompted a police inquiry, we knew it was sudden, we also knew IOPC was handling the case. But it was new territory for Cambridgeshire and also for the Home Secretary, writes John Elworthy.

However, some weeks later I received a call asking if I could help with an issue. The woman said she had looked at my work and thought I was someone who could be trusted. We spoke for 20 minutes before I even knew what the story might be. She then revealed she was a friend of a woman involved in the ‘Ablewhite case’ and my ears pricked up. We spoke in broad outline about what her friend might tell me. I arranged to meet her (but not the victim) the following day. We met at a hotel near her home (some 30 miles from my office) and I heard the story. After 3 hours I left and we agreed to speak again. She called me next day (early) and asked if I could meet somewhere else (also 30 miles away) and this time with her friend, the victim. I did. Another three hours of taped conversations – always with consent of course. I had spoken to our legal advisers and on their recommendation got screen grabs of many of the messages, including the ‘ultimate’ message. It took most of the following weekend to piece it together, on the Monday we sought and obtained legal clearance for publication. The story led all our Cambs titles and I was approached by The Sun and Daily Mail for the story which duly went national.

Judges’ Comments:  

Excellent local journalism..being trusted as an organisation to respect the privacy and confidence of a whistleblower earned a powerful scoop.

The mystery of a sudden resignation solved by a tip to an old-fashioned journalist with all the right instincts to get the inside story.

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