Harrow Observer scoops Norman Kember interview

By Colin Crummy

The Harrow Observer scooped the nationals last week by securing an interview with freed hostage Norman Kember.

Film producers, playwrights and the national press have all been vying to win the rights to tell the 74-year-old peace activist’s story of 118 days in captivity in Iraq, but Kember has so far refused to sell his story or talk about his ordeal.

Instead, he granted two newspaper interviews; the first to the Baptist Times and the second to Harrow Observer journalist Dhruti Shah from his home on 25 March.

The local newspaper had been regularly reporting on Kember’s plight since his abduction four months ago, and reporters Shah and Benjamin Parkes had cultivated a relationship with his local church and his wife, Pat, during his capitivity.

Editor-in-chief Lindsay Coulson said the newspaper had put in a lot of time and effort ensuring that the coverage of Kember’s time in captivity was positive, rather than simply negative. She said: "In my view, when he returned he was told by both his wife and the local vicar just how much effort and support we’d given as a newspaper while he’d been away, on a weekly basis."

The newspaper’s reporters were the only media, besides PA and the BBC, invited to the church service, which Kember attended upon his return. After the Baptist Times interview, the editorial team felt encouraged to approach Kember themselves. Shah said: "I went down and knocked on Norman’s door and his wife Pat recognised me from the church services and from that familiarity she invited me in."

Coulson added: "Often as a local newspaper you do find that you just can’t compete with the sheer number of reporters the nationals can put on a story and the time they can give to it.

Plus there’s the fact that they can pay for people’s accounts.

"You can’t blame them, the most we can do is offer them a coffee. So to get the story in spite of all that is a major achievement for us."

In the interview published last week, Kember told of his relief at returning home, his emotional reunion with wife Pat, how his faith helped him cope and his plans for the future, but he refused to be drawn, as yet, on his experiences in captivity.

"Norman said he would talk about his experiences, but not at the moment," said Shah. "The fact that he said he would talk means that hopefully the door is open [for us].

"That’s the thing with local papers – we can build on that relationship whereas with nationals it’s a bit more difficult."

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