Paper outguns council to get 'sex slave' story

Chronicle: interviewed councillor

The Hounslow Chronicle stood its ground in the face of attempts by the local Labour Party and council press officer to control its "My Hell as a Sex Slave" splash about a councillor who was a former prostitute.

When the paper heard gossip that Bobbie Wason, a newly elected Labour councillor, had been a prostitute, news editor Bernard Ginns asked reporter Jessica Mangold to check this out.

Wason agreed to an interview on Tuesday lunchtime, the day of the Chronicle’s deadline. She said she would talk openly and honestly about her past as her experiences had made her what she was today.

Ginns, Mangold and editor Ian Patel discussed how to treat the story, deciding to be sympathetic since Wason was being open and honest.

The day before the interview, Wason contacted the paper to say she would need to tell the Hounslow Labour Party about the interview.

"This is the point where things went a bit frantic," said Ginns.

Colin Ellar, deputy leader of the party, rang Patel to express its concerns about the story.

"It appeared the party was becoming paranoid about what form the story would take," said Ginns. "By noon on Tuesday, the council’s head of press and communications, Sandra Horniman, had become involved.

"She wanted assurances about what kind of story we were going to do."

Ginns argued that the paper was running a story about a councillor’s private life and it was none of Horniman’s business.

Her job, he said, was to represent the council as an entity, not "to moonlight as an image control machine for the Labour Party".

Horniman threatened the interview was off unless the Chronicle gave strong assurances about the story, Ginns said. She also wanted to sit in on the interview.

"We thought this was unacceptable," said Ginns. "But we compromised and said she could sit in on the condition that she would not interrupt. She said she couldn’t give that kind of guarantee.

"We decided that if she did interrupt then we would pull the interview and get the story from other sources.

"This would have been a far more critical and damning story. This was not the story we wanted to do but Labour’s clumsy approach was pushing us towards this."

The interview went ahead without interruption from Horniman.

"It took a lot of effort, especially on deadline day, but it was worth it," commented Ginns.

A council spokesman said it would have been important for Horniman to be present at anything which would have had an impact on the council "and the councillor, being an executive member, is a senior councillor, so it would have been important for her to have sat in".

Jean Morgan

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