Specialist Writer/ Impact Journalist of the Year

Scroll down to meet the nominees for this category

The Shortlist

Specification: For journalists with specialisms not covered by any other category such as health, fashion, travel, science, health, environment, motoring and politics. The judges looked for journalists who break stories, analyse and explain their subject for a wider audience. 

Click on the below articles to read in more detail.

Abbie Wightwick, WalesOnline

In her own words, Abbie says the stories in her entry were not traditional hard news, instead they revealed how she worked to find real people to show the problems and triumphs in the education system in Wales .

When a distressed mum rang her to complain her eight year old son’s school repeatedly suspended him for several hours a day she realised this was part of a wider pattern she wanted to investigate further.

Her investigation was to expose an often hidden part of the education system but one which is increasingly important with rising mental health and behaviour issues among young people.

One of the major education stories of 2019 in Wales was the ongoing school funding crisis. Abbie wanted to find out what lack of cash really meant day to day and look at how money gets to schools – or doesn’t.  She spent weeks tracking down heads willing to tell me just how hard they and their schools have been hit by austerity, often left scrabbling around for writing materials, cleaning toilets, asking parents for donations and cutting jobs.

The judges said:

Great specialist journalism with very well-researched evidence of the human fall out when things go wrong in the education system. Concise writing and an obvious empathy with the subject matter.

The skill and experience of a specialist reporter demonstrates here how to get under the skin of the subject and highlight major issues that need to be tackled.

Ciaran Barnes, Sunday Life


Ciaran’s crime-centred submissions revealed how journalist Lyra McKee was murdered during a terrorist stunt for TV cameras, a drug dealing murder cartel’s control of the UK cocaine market, and social services failures to stop a child sex killer.

Each of the stories led the Northern Ireland news agenda, leading to MTV handing over footage to police, and a major legal action against a health trust.

‘Killed for the Cameras’ exposed how reporter Lyra McKee was shot dead by dissident republicans who were trying to impress a camera crew filming a documentary in Derry City.

‘Rot in Hell You Monster’ detailed how child sex killer John Clifford could have been stopped had Social Services acted on concerns against him.

The year before he murdered his niece Sue-Ellen Clifford, the paedophile’s own children were removed from him because of concerns for their safety. But this crucial information was not shared with his sister Martha – who later took her own life after unknowingly welcoming him into her home.

‘Cartel Killers’ focused on the Kinihan crime gang, who a top police officer confirmed control 90 per cent of the cocaine trade in the UK and Ireland.

Judges’ comments:

Crime reporting that does so much more than list the sequence of events. The analysis and setting of context is outstanding throughout and paints very vivid images while remaining within the narrative. An outstanding example of how a thorough knowledge of subject matter – and its geographical relevance — can produce work of extraordinary power and range.

Helen McArdle, The Herald


Helen’s first entry highlighted an alarming rise cases of bowel cancer among young Scots, including children, and the view of the country’s leading screening expert that it is time to look at reducing the screening age for the disease. It was accompanied by a case study of a young woman in Edinburgh whose experience highlights how younger cases can be diagnosed late.

A story about the Royal College was only published after repeated attempts by lawyer to shut it down on grounds of defamation and invasion of privacy. However, after a week spent gathering and corroborating information from various sources linked to the College Helen was able to report that there had been concerns about the culture at the College, including use of gagging orders and payoffs to former employees, high staff turnover and bullying.

The final story from NHS Borders also highlighted concern of healthcare staff that patients are being put in danger by poor care, including one case where a patient was harmed, as well as wider cultural issues around victimisation of whistleblowers resulting in loss of staff through stress or suspension.

The judges said:

Three outstanding pieces concerning health. The investigation on the Royal College shows evidence of extensive diligence and outstanding reporting craft. 

Good research and writing on very difficult stories.

Joe Thomas, Liverpool Echo

As the reporter assigned to cover the criminal prosecutions linked to the Hillsborough tragedy, Joe was tasked with covering the most important trials in the Echo newsroom’s history and, arguably, the most legally sensitive case in modern British history.

This meant live blogging direct from the courtroom for 17 weeks as Joe covered the trial, and retrial, of David Duckenfield, in unrivalled detail.

Those updates and the daily print overviews meant the families of the 96 men, women and children who died as a result of the tragedy, survivors and campaigners never missed a detail from the courtroom.

It also meant that, in Joe, they always had someone in that arena on their behalf.

Joe did not miss a single harrowing word of either trial or case management hearing, even having to address the court on occasion during discussions about what the public should be allowed to know.

The evidence was harrowing and Joe often found himself typing through tears.

Joe’s other submissions included articles on Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday secretary convicted of a health and safety breach, which are powerful and poignant opinion pieces that captured the mood of the Echo’s readership at a difficult time.

The judges said:

The specialist writer work of Joe Thomas in covering the criminal prosecutions linked to the Hillsborough tragedy is outstanding journalism in every way. The sensitivity and comprehensive nature of the coverage is underpinned with exemplary reporting craft. The opinion pieces too give evidence of a depth of understanding of the subject matter and of its huge emotional resonance. All round class.

Liam Thorp, Liverpool Echo

As Political Editor for one of the biggest regional news organisations in the country, Liam has produced stunning exclusives, including how a six-stone, desperately ill Liverpool man who was judged fit for work and cruelly and repeatedly denied benefits. His campaigning work on the 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.

Liam’s work also included a powerful two-part investigation into Liverpool’s heroin crisis which highlighted the history and terrifying impact of the drug on the city of Liverpool and how local services are struggling to cope.

After notorious former Liverpool Labour politician Derek Hatton was readmitted to the Labour Party in February 2019 Liam exclusively broke the news that he had in fact been suspended by Labour just two days after being readmitted because of historic social media activity.

The scoop was replicated in every major national news title and brought in more than 100,000 page views.

The judges said:

Liam produced a remarkable story about a tragic case from a political editor who demonstrates the strength of his journalism covering human tragedy as well as front line politicians.

Extraordinary investigation and strong political work.

Seanín Graham, The Irish News

Breaking a health story that sets the national news agenda is something Seanin achieved 2019 with the extraordinary revelations around the Muckamore Abbey Hospital abuse scandal.

After writing almost 100 stories on horrific allegations of physical beatings and mental torture of vulnerable patients by staff the previous year, the top detective investigating the case finally agreed to a face-to-face interview – ahead of all other print and broadcast media.

The disturbing discovery of 1,500 crimes in just one ward over a six-month period had a massive impact and led news bulletins across BBC News 24, ITN, Channel 4 and RTE as well as The Guardian, Independent and other print/online outlets.

Separately, an exclusive story on a covert NHS operation into “toxic” levels of sectarianism at one of Northern Ireland’s main hospitals sent shockwaves through the health system and led to the intervention of the Information Commissioner after employees learned they had been secretly filmed.

Finally, the skill of honing sources  – in this case one of NI’s top consultants who Seanin first met 15 years ago – and getting them to go on record amid a culture of fear and bullying is another exclusive which impacted on the news agenda. A doctor’s decision to lift the lid on the culture they were and his decision to quit was unprecedented. He chose Seanin to do that for him.

The judges said:

Journalistic excellence and persistence brought to light a shocking history of abuse… a fine example of a specialist who demonstrates determination and professionalism.