An award-winning investigative journalist has been ‘banned’ from putting questions to Birmingham’s police and crime commissioner.
The Birmingham Mail’s Jeanette Oldham has been told that the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) will only now answer questions from her submitted via the Freedom of Information Act.
The move follows the publication of two articles by Oldham. One revealed that a £60,000 contract had gone to a company which employs the deputy police and crime commissioner’s daughter. Another article revealed that a friend of the deputy commissioner’s daughter had landed an unadvertised job with the OPCC.
The Birmingham Mail reports that OPCC spokesman Richard Costello said he had banned investigations editor Oldham from asking him direct questions after she “broke protocol” by naming him in articles.
He also claimed she had ended their last telephone conversation by “slamming the phone down”.
The Mail has a recording of the five-minute telephone conversation and reports today that this recording makes clear that Oldham indicated the call was coming to end three times before putting the phone down.
The Mail reports today: “Whilst the OPCC spokesman has provided statements and telephone answers to many of the Birmingham Mail questions, the OPCC has also consistently failed to answer certain queries posed by our reporter.
“During various other conversations as part of our enquiries into the OPCC, Mr Costello had repeatedly refused to answer certain questions and complained about our ‘line’ of questioning with Jeanette Oldham and, in a later conversation, with Editor Marc Reeves similarly complained about the ‘type of questions’ she was asking.
“The Mail recognises no naming protocols and, in line with other media, has named spokespeople when appropriate.”
The ban was announced after Oldham asked for a breakdown of OPCC restructure savings of £300,000.
The Mail has also asked for details of a pay-off awarded to former chief executive Jacky Courtney, who left her post during the restructure.
Explaining the ban, Costello told the Mail: “We regret having to take this course of action, but have found it difficult to justify the huge amount of time and public resources spent on often speculative inquiries.”
Editor Reeves has written to police and crime commissioner David Jamieson and Home Secretary Theresa May, demanding that the ban be overturned.
He said: “Jeanette is one of the foremost investigative reporters in the UK who has simply been carrying out her job, holding the powerful to account and reporting on the spending of public money.
“This ban is an insult to our readers and to the taxpayers of the West Midlands.
“Of course her questioning is more robust than the OPCC may be used to, but it’s this approach that has secured our two articles into the OPCC.
“This approach has also won Jeanette many awards for her work investigating the Trojan Horse scandal and child sexual exploitation, to name just two recent issues.
“We believe the OPCC may have banned her because her line of questioning has riled them, which would be funny if the consequences to a free press weren’t so serious.”
No-one was available to comment at Birmingham OPCC this morning.
Oldham was named specialist writer of the year at the Regional Press Awards in May and was also a finalist in the British Journalism Awards for public interest journalism, organised by Press Gazette, in December 2014.