How a ‘confused’ email led to Southern Daily Echo's scoop of the year

This year’s Regional Press Award scoop of the year originated from a “jumbled and quite frantic” email from a mother talking about the rights of children.

At the end of the “confused” email, the woman left her phone number. Many journalists would have ignored it, but Southern Daily Echo health reporter Melanie Adams chose not to.

“You do get loads of people phoning up and emailing in and you have to make a judgement call,” she told Press Gazette.

“She was obviously so upset by whatever had happened to her that I just thought it was worth a call.

“And if it was going to be nothing it was just going to be a waste of five minutes of my time.”

It turned out to be quite the opposite. This tip-off turned out to be the biggest story of Adams’ career so far and prompted a national press storm.

“It just goes to show that members of the public have got these issues and they may not be able to put it succinctly like we’re trained to do so it’s always worth a call to find out if it is something,” she says.

Initially, the woman was hesitant to talk to Adams – “I think she was quite shocked that I called her and then the realisation set in: ‘Oh gosh, do I actually want to speak to them about it?’”

But Adams, still not in possession of all the facts, was invited to visit the woman’s home. It was only then that she realised the importance of the story: the woman’s 13-year-old daughter had been given a contraceptive implant at school without the knowledge her mother or the family GP.

Adams may have had the story, but at this stage the mother decided she didn’t want it to go in the paper.

“So I had to work with her,” says Adams. “It was a good couple of weeks that I built her trust with me and said, you know, this is how we’ll do it.

“And slowly, slowly we worked with her. And finally she said, yeah, actually we should do this.”

The woman did not want Adams to speak to her daughter at that stage, but was willing to be named herself (she had a different surname) with a picture in the paper.

“Obviously there was a temptation there to use this photo, but in the end we decided the sensible thing to do was to leave it all anonymous.

“Because the strength of the story was such that you didn’t need a face to put in it because it related to so many different people anyway. So we respected the family.”

After spending several more days getting information out of the local health authorities – to find out which schools were involved in the scheme – Adams had one more important breakthrough.

Adams says: “The mother was really pleased with how we did it and told us you can speak to my daughter and then we did the exclusive interview with the 13-year-old, who said she’d rather go home and tell her mum that she’d had an implant than the fact she was pregnant.

“It did take a while. At the time you think is it ever going to get there but it was obviously worth it in the end.”

The story made a front page and an inside spread for the paper before striking a national chord.

“I’ve never had anything like that,” says Adams. “You literally have every TV, radio, magazine asking for the number of that mum. As if we’re just going to hand it out to the whole of country.

“It’s just a bit crazy. It just goes to show that although it was a local story initially the thing is there are millions of mums and dads and grandparents out there that suddenly thought, gosh, is this happening at the school of my kids?

“So I think that’s why it was so big. It related to so many people. When parents drop their kids off at the school gate, they put their trust in the teachers there. And even the teachers weren’t fully aware of what was going on.

“And I think it frightened a few people. It was one of those ones that caught the imagination of everyone.”

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