Reporter David Harrison last night picked up the Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism in recognition for a “tireless and often perilous” investigation into sex trafficking in Eastern Europe for the Sunday Telegraph.
His work was not only acclaimed by the United Nations but prompted action from the Home Office.
The award of £5,000 was set up by Private Eye and the Guardian in memory of campaigning journalist Paul Foot (pictured) who died in 2004.
On accepting the award Harrison said: “I am thrilled and humbled to have won the award, particularly against such high-calibre competition. The sex trafficking series was a difficult and dangerous undercover investigation and there were times, when I sat in sleazy Eastern European bars and nightclubs, talking ‘business’ with armed thugs that I wondered if I would get out alive.
“Fortunately I did. But just as important as the investigation to expose the almost unimaginable horrors of the sex trafficking trade was the campaign that followed, a campaign that has helped to bring about changes and initiatives that will save thousands of young women from a life of sexual slavery.
"Like most journalists I sometimes wonder if what I do makes any real difference. It's nice to think that occasionally it does.”
Harrison’s winning entry detailed the story of young girls help captive in an unlit cellar before being shipped over to Britain to work as sex slaves.
The judges described it as “raw, frontline stuff in the greatest tradition of radical newspaper journalism.”
Six runners up each received prizes of £1,000, they were:
- Tony Collins, from Computer Weekly, for a “relentless investigation” of the £12.4 billion NHS IT programme in the face of “consistent obstruction and obfuscation from the government”.
- Liam McDougall, The Sunday Herald, for work which revealed “dak allegations of malpractice among fingerprint experts” in a 1997 murder case which led to an overhaul of at the forensic science service in Scotland.
- Stephen Grey, for the The Guardian/New Statesman/Sunday Times, for his investigations into the CIA’s secret rendition policy – which started two years ago and eventually prompted the Bush administration to admit the practice.
- The Insight Team, The Sunday Times, for being at the “cutting edge” of the Tessa Jowell and David Mills financial scandal and cash-for-honours.
- Henry Porter, from the The Observer, for “a series of elegantly written, thoroughly researched and passionately argued articles” which “goaded” the Prime Minister into a series of email exchanges which made the front page.
- Jeni Harvey, The Middleton Guardian, for writing about the “appalling injustice of the Rochdale satanic abuse affair” and for “refusing to let the scandal rest, challenging court orders and using the Freedom of Information Act to good effect”. The judges congratulated her for exposing “the full horror of a despicable affair the council was determined to keep secret. Local newspaper journalism at its most dynamic and courageous.”
The judges were were Richard Stott (Chair), Ian Hislop, Alan Rusbridger, Bill Hagerty, Clare Fermont, Jeremy Dear and Richard Ingrams.
Last year the inaugural award was given to John Sweeney for his Daily Mail investigation into shaken baby syndrome.