Weekly/Sunday Reporter of the Year
Scroll down to meet the nominees for Weekly/Sunday Reporter of the Year, sponsored by Luther Pendragon.
The category for weekly 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.
Charles Thomson, Yellow Advertiser
I exposed one of Britain’s worst ever paedophiles as a police informant. The story, picked up by The Mirror, prompted victims, lawyers and charity workers to lobby for an inquiry/IICSA investigation and for new rules governing use of informants.
I began investigating the Shoebury paedophile ring in 2015. Whistleblowers who worked on the case contacted me with concerns over ringleader Dennis King’s lenient treatment and police’s failure to pursue other abusers. My eventual discovery that King was an informant raised disturbing questions over whether that was the reason for the irregularities.
King’s informant status was buried in a stack of old documents, which I found and rescued days before they were due to be burned. I’d tracked down a charity worker involved in the original case, hoping to interview them. They were initially frightened to talk but I won them over and they eventually told me they had pertinent paperwork.
When their charity closed, they’d taken their files home. When new Data Protection laws came in, started burning them in weekly garden fires. The week I made contact, they had one pile left to burn. It contained hundreds of pages on the Shoebury ring – including the ‘informant’ document.
I’ve faced constant obstruction in my attempts to obtain paperwork through official channels – some files mysteriously ‘missing’, others withheld for tenuous reasons. One ruling – on a report into alleged abuse and cover-ups at Essex Council – was so bizarre that I filed papers with the MOJ, demanding a tribunal against the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
My attempts to obtain King’s criminal record were frustrated by the MOJ and Home Office each insisting it was the other’s property. I snooped around and found a citizen journalist who’d successfully obtained someone’s criminal record from the MOJ two years earlier.
I complained to the ICO, creating a Catch-22 for the MOJ. I argued it should either be punished for releasing the first man’s record, or punished for withholding King’s. The MOJ conceded and released King’s record. It showed police would have known their informant had three decades of prior child sex offences – and confirmed his lenient treatment in the Shoebury case had freed him to abuse more children.
That MOJ victory came one day after we were told the paper was closing, all staff were redundant and that week’s paper would be our last ever. King’s record was released just hours before that paper was printed.
Abuse is a difficult subject which must be handled carefully. I’ve worked alongside victims and their families throughout this investigation. ‘Victim Six’ allowed me to follow his journey through the new police probe. I told his story in the ‘final’ YA, as a vehicle to also recount the story of my investigation.
Editor Mick Ferris revived the paper in August. In December, I found ‘Ben’ after winning the trust of his mother. Ben and Victim Six’s stories revealed similar failings, three decades apart.
IICSA staff have told campaigners they’re trying to insert Shoebury into a future strand.
Already an award winner who refuses to give up even when his paper folds. Tireless in his pursuit of justice,never thwarted by officialdom a credit to his trade
Excellent investigative work in very difficult circumstances to uncover a story with far-reaching ramifications The covering of the story – the burning of files, the intervention of the Ministry of Justice against a backdrop of the paper’s closure – is a drama in itself.
Excellent story on police informant
Ciaran Barnes, Sunday Life
My Weekly/Sunday Reporter of the Year submissions revealed how journalist Lyra McKee was murdered during a terrorist stunt for TV cameras, that a terrorist godfather was behind sinister threats against a future MP, and a child rapist’s denials about being involved in the murder of a notorious paedophile.
Each of the stories led the Northern Ireland news agenda, causing MTV to hand over footage to police, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) launching one of its biggest ever historical sex abuse probes.
My first entry ‘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.
It explained how police launched pre-emptive house raids for guns to be used in a ‘show of strength display, and how these searches led to the riot which ultimately claimed Lyra’s life.
The expose was picked up by media outlets around the world and led the news agenda for the week ahead.
The second submission was an on-the-record interview with convicted child rapist Leo Hoad detailing how he had been arrested in connection with the murder of paedophile David Sullivan, who is suspected of abusing up to 400 children.
Sullivan’s brutal killing and the allegations against him are now the subject of a major PSNI historical probe, with Hoad at its centre after he confessed to being a suspect.
The report was supported by a first-hand account from one of Sullivan’s victims of the catalogue of abuse he endured.
Hoad’s confession about his arrest is the only existing on-the-record interview given by a Sullivan murder suspect.
My third entry ‘Exposed’ revealed how a terrorist godfather was behind a sinister poster campaign to disrupt the election campaign of future North Belfast MP John Finucane.
In a sinister twist I detailed how UDA crime boss Jim Spence was also part of the gang involved in the murder of the politician’s human rights lawyer father Pat Finucane 30 years ago.
Government documents referenced in the report show how he planned the killing, and that he was now targeting the solicitor’s son John, who two weeks later secured a historic Westminster victory.
A sensational series of exclusive splashes that require tenacity, determination, journalistic skill and, because of the subjects, a considerable amount of bravery.
Yet more brave, ground breaking stuff from a reporter who frequently shows the rest of the pack the way.
John Toner, Sunday Life
In January I was able to track down and interview the sister of one of the biggest Lottery winners the United Kingdom has ever seen.
Ann Floyd’s sister Frances Connolly, along with teacher husband Paddy, scooped £115m on the New Year’s Day National Lottery draw.
The frenetic media coverage which followed was almost unprecedented in Northern Ireland and the search for family and friends of the winners was fierce.
I was the first and only journalist to get an exclusive interview with a close family member who told of her shock and joy at her sister’s huge windfall.
She spoke in detail about receiving “that” phone call and what difference the money would make to their family, many of whom would shortly be made millionaires due to the generosity of the winners.
Finding Mrs Floyd and convincing her to agree to an interview indicates an exceptional level of skill and tact given the frenzied coverage of her sister’s win.
In February I was able to secure an exclusive sit-down interview with Ellie Ward whose husband Pat was brutally stabbed and beaten to death in Clogher, County Tyrone.
In the days after the murder of Pat Ward, CCTV and extremely graphic images of his body being dragged across a residential close had been circulated on social media and the family were in a highly distressed state when I arrived at their home.
Despite her shock and raw grief Ellie spoke candidly with me about her husband and his relationship with those accused of his killing.
Pat’s younger brother Tom had been killed in a horrific hatchet attack outside their parents’ home in 2007 and surviving brother Terrence also spoke to me during the same interview.
Traveller families can sometimes be very hostile, particularly in emotionally charged situations, and I believe my ability to approach and engage with them in such circumstances displays a high level of skill, bravery and professionalism.
Ellie and her family were very anxious about the way in which they would be portrayed in our newspaper, such is the way society in general tends to sneer at the Mincéir (traveller) community, and particularly as they were concerned about the sickening images of his body which were being circulated on WhatsApp.
However, I was able to allay their fears and carefully handle the subject whilst writing an emotive, impactful and heart-rending piece.
In September, acting on information garnered from a PSNI source, I exposed a sleazy teacher at a top girls’ grammar school who had been sending intimate text messages to a pupil.
Andrew McClelland had taught at Bloomfield Collegiate School for 14 years but laid waste to his career and personal life in the space of a week in the spring of 2018 by harassing the 16-year-old girl.
Covering his contest and approaching him outside court required a high level of legal competence, tenacity and journalistic skill.
Exclusive after exclusive – and all riveting reads.
Good interviews, and strong story on teacher and texting
John Elworthy, Cambs Times/ Ely Standard
All three submissions required considerable use of contacts and good local knowledge. The council deputy leader Roger Hickford securing himself a council-owned farm tenancy was slowly eked out of the council and has led to a major probe by the council audit committee that is still ongoing, 15 months later. Cllr Hickford remains in post but has been unable to take up a non-executive directorship of the council’s own property company This Land.
The revelations of how police and crime commissioner Jason Ablewhite came to quit suddenly came after an approach was made by a third party who trusted me to tell the story. It involved a full day with the third party before being invited to meet the victim the following day. Long journeys were involved for the meetings. The revelations prompted massive national coverage in the wake of our local exclusive.
The third entry was part of a series of revelations in the wake of a charity ball organised by metro mayor James Palmer. We explained how the fund-raising figures had been ‘massaged’ to portray more money raised than actually was (hence the caterer writing off £2,000). And we revealed, too, the fact that the ‘charity’ involved was not a charity at all but a poorly run social enterprise with no proper accounts. As a consequence, the Lottery Commission suspended £45,000 worth of funding, and an investigation began. The money is still frozen and as of this month the investigation remains ongoing.
I believe the judges will see a pattern at work here in which local journalism can still thrive and tell compelling local stories. It is not resource that is often our problem in the provincial press but the lack of local knowledge and the ability to develop sources who trust local journalists with their information.
Powerful portfolio of stories that demonstrate the importance of local knowledge and contacts by one of the industry’s veterans.
Three excellent stories
Les Reid, Coventry Observer
Three examples of ‘difficult to handle’ investigations and exclusives handled carefully from an experienced multiple awards winner, including at the Regional Press Awards.
- Green Party suspends activist over ‘sick tweets’ after probe. This exclusive investigation was followed up in the Sunday Times by its investigation team. It involved forensic and detailed internet searches of disturbing material, leaked emails and persistent questioning.
- Coventry City Football Club/Wasps/Ricoh Arena dispute. A series of exclusives on the biggest political and sporting issue in the city for years, as measured by audience data, resulting in Coventry City Football Club highly controversially moving to Birmingham – a story I broke. The entry includes campaigning work which sought to hold the city’s political leaders to account over their role in the dispute – which the Coventry Observer has consistently led the way on. I also include a URL of a long Comment piece which sets out more context for this work.
- ‘Parachuted’ election candidates ‘stitch up’. Examples of exclusive coverage online and in print over several weeks which lead the way on this issue, with unrivalled contacts, from an experienced political journalist.
A submission which illustrates not only his versatility but also a man who knows his patch inside out
Excellent exclusive on Coventry City
Mike Lockley, Sunday Mercury
Mike Lockley has worked on the patch for 45 years. His list of contacts – and he’s currently the only reporter in the newsroom with an old school bulging contacts book – has provided scoop after scoop.
He may not be able to tweet, but Mike comes from a time when journalists lived or died by the quality of their writing and the exclusives they provided.
The three submissions in his entry, all from the Sunday Mercury, set the news agenda both locally and further afield.
To bring home the human tragedy of knife crime, and to seek a way forward, Mike met with the grieving parents of three recent stabbing victims at the Mercury offices, allowing them to swap stories and share ideas for a special report.
Allegations of a bizarre breakfast election fraud excited national attention, and the prison assault on Lee Rigby’s killer provided another big story.
A veteran who has worked the patch for 45 years and who uses traditional reporting skills. And boy does it show. The special report on knife crime and the exclusive on Lee Rigby’s killer being attacked in jail are simply great reads.
Strong interviews with knife crime families
Rodney Edwards, The Impartial Reporter
This was a series of powerful and hard-hitting investigative articles, written and investigated by me, on allegations of historical child sexual abuse in my home county of Fermanagh in Northern Ireland.
As a result of publishing one man’s account of alleged abuse there was a tsunami of people getting in touch with me with similar stories. Between March 2019 and December 2019, I exposed serious claims of child sexual abuse after more than 70 alleged victims made allegations against over 70 men and women over many decades. I soon realised that many of the victims had been allegedly abused by the same people as similar names kept cropping up.
In that time, I wrote more than 50 articles, including case studies and testimonies which exposed alleged abuse for the first time in the local newspaper’s history, highlighted the apparent failure of those in positions of power to keep children safe and challenged those in authority.
The allegations related to sexual abuse by people in positions of trust and power, including bus drivers, businessmen, a school principal, a childminder, Orangemen, police officers and others. The locations of the alleged abuse included schools, buses, Orange Halls, Council-managed toilets, etc.
All these alleged victims contacted me independently and all of them were speaking out for the first time – each story gave others the confidence to speak out.
Many of them never got justice and were critical of the way in which their allegations had been handled by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and other statutory bodies.
The stories questioned the established social order in Northern Ireland, exposed crime, informed our readers of what was allegedly going on in this small rural county and held those in power to account.
The allegations sparked a major review by the Police Service of Northern Ireland after a personal intervention by the then chief constable and in December 2019 several alleged abusers were arrested. This is currently the subject of a live investigation. There were public protests and meetings and calls to change the law. Counselling services saw an increase in victims seeking help and the issue was raised at Westminster and Stormont.
There was an increase in our weekly circulation. For example the expose on Orange Order alleged abuse increased our circulation year-on-year by 9.3 per cent selling 9,991 copies.
My stories were followed up by Sky News, the Guardian and other outlets across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK. It was also the subject of specially commissioned documentaries on both BBC radio and BBC television.
But more importantly it gave alleged victims a voice for the first time.
To be commended for investigation that not only exposed massive scandal but led to huge inquiry, national follow ups, and a boost in circulation
Very impressive range of articles in an investigation widely picked up elsewhere.