Journalists help to jail councillor

Friday’s Lincolnshire Echo

Former Lincolnshire County Council leader Jim Speechley has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after being found guilty of misconduct in public office, which was exposed by journalists.

A jury at Sheffield Crown Court convicted the Conservative councillor of seeking to influence the route of a bypass at Crowland, Lincolnshire, with a view to personal gain.

The trial was told that in March 2000, Speechley had called the project manager into his office to make changes to the original line of the £24m scheme.

He drew in a route that left a fouracre field he owned enclosed within a new “development belt”, and failed to declare a financial or prejudicial interest when the scheme was discussed in council.

The story broke in autumn 2001 after freelance agency journalist Richard Orange and BBC Look North journalist Matthew Gull tackled Speechley about his role in the road project. Both had been investigating the former leader’s property interests.

They had examined council records, notes of meetings where Speechley had spoken in support of the bypass scheme, and had located the leader’s field.

They discovered he had owned the land for 30 years, but had only listed it in the official register as a distinct site some six months earlier – well after the bypass route had been chosen.

The two journalists interviewed Speechley in November and Orange wrote to the council the same month about Speechley’s land interests.

Orange’s letter triggered an internal investigation. The BBC broadcast the exclusive story and through his agency, Orange supplied additional exclusive copy, photographs and documentation to the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, the Lincolnshire Target Series, the Municipal Journal and the Lincolnshire Echo.

The council then called in the police.

The Echo had campaigned for Speechley to go after running a series of revelations about his leadership. Its coverage won the Echo’s Sharon Edwards the specialist reporter of the year title in the Press Gazette Regional Press Awards.

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