The efforts of the Liverpool Echo in covering the Hillsborough disaster inquests over two years were recognised with a standing ovation from journalists at the Regional Press Awards in what the paper’s editor described as the “highest point” of his career.
Echo editor Alistair Machray and inquest reporter Eleanor Barlow accepted the Chairman’s Award from Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, at the ceremony on Friday.
Last month, families of the 96 people who died in a crush after the football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989, were told that their loved ones were “unlawfully killed”. It came after 27 years of campaigning for justice from the families.
Two investigations, one into the emergency response on the day and another from the IPCC looking into the ensuing cover-up are currently underway.
After collecting the award, Machray told Press Gazette: “There’s nothing better than being recognised by one’s peers, other than being recognised by the Hillsborough families.
“I’m always cautious about projecting any rhetoric or emotion into any journalism we do because no-one can second guess the emotions of the families themselves and that’s always been how I’ve chosen to edit it – let’s see where the families are and let’s take it from there.
“But in terms of today, being recognised by the room, being recognised by Trevor Hicks that – let me choose my words carefully – is the highest point of my career.”
He added: “In terms of myself and my journalists – for many of we older ones [Hillsborough] has been career-defining. We will never work on a bigger or more important story.
“In terms of what this means for journalism, it is validation of the core principles. We are there to hold power brokers to account and to shine a light on where there is darkness. Of all we do there is surely nothing more important than that.”
Barlow, who has been with the Echo as a general news reporter for four years, spent two of those covering almost every day of the inquest.
“I won’t get another experience like [the inquests],” she told Press Gazette. “I was a bit nervous covering them but it’s one of those things where you just do the job that you’re told to do and get on with it. It’s really intense but obviously covering the verdicts that they got was amazing.”
Barlow added: “The families were all lovely and seeing them every day you get to know them. They were just all so nice to us and supportive and really great. It makes your job a bit easier.
“I was sat at the edge of the court [when the coroner’s verdict came back] and the court just erupted into cheers. You cover court cases but you never cover anything like that. You could just feel it in the room, it was amazing.
“It’s great to see the Echo recognised for being able to have stood by the families for so long.”
Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said: “A 27-year campaign is extraordinary and the Echo played a big part in both revealing misdeeds and continuing the tradition of journalism of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”
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