Perseverance and commitment: We exposed injustice, we pledged to campaign
Journalist William McLennan explains the stories behind his Reporter Of The Year award
25 May, 2018 — By William McLennan
William McLennan on stage at the Regional Press Awards
WHEN the Society of Editors judging panel selected my articles as the winning entry for the Weekly Reporter of the Year award, they were picking stories which show how journalism can shine a light on the day-to-day reality of decisions made by those in power.
Take the case of Stoly Jankovic, who fled the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s as tensions mounted ahead of civil war. He had been living in the UK for 27 years when he was pushed into the back of a van and whisked away to a detention centre.
There seemed little hope that he would not be deported. I was alerted by his loyal customers at Earth Natural Foods, in Kentish Town Road.
Galvanised by our coverage, which included an interview with Stoly from the detention centre, his supporters delivered a petition of 25,000 signatures to the Home Office, demanding his release. He was helped by MP Keir Starmer and represented, pro bono, by Ben Seifert, an immigration barrister who was moved by Stoly’s plight.
Judges said our coverage showed “determination and perseverance”. Stoly is safely back in NW5, where he belongs. In life, Lawrence Bond never sought the limelight. But, when he collapsed and died on the way home from the Jobcentre, his sisters trusted the New Journal to expose the injustice. Despite persistent ill health he had been ruled “fit to work” by the Department for Work and Pensions.
In a state of obvious physical distress, he had been to sign on when he collapsed. Our coverage was praised for “shining a light on the human cost of welfare reform”. Film director Ken Loach put Mr Bond’s case centre stage when he joined a protest, organised by local disability campaigners Winvisble, highlighting the similarities with his film I, Daniel Blake. The judges also commended our coverage of the Chalcots estate evacuation.
Alongside my colleague Tom Foot, I was on-site as the drama unfolded late on a summer’s evening and stayed there till the sun came up. On the surface there were striking similarities between Grenfell and the Chalcots tower blocks, where a slew of fire safety issues have been revealed, but there are big differences.
In Camden, residents’ voices are amplified by their local newspaper, and their council is scrutinised at every turn. In the hours after the panicked evacuation, we committed ourselves to finding the answers to what led 3,000 people to be driven from their homes.
With the burnt-out shell of Grenfell looming on the horizon, it was the least we could do.