Paul Foot Award runner-up Rob Waugh: 'Journalists love holding police to account'

 

Last week Yorkshire Post journalist Rob Waugh was named runner-up at the Paul Foot Awards for a series of investigations into dubious spending by senior Cleveland Police officers and abuse of power by the Association of Chief Police Officer and Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA).

This was Waugh’s third nomination for the Paul Foot Award, having previously been nominated in 2007 and 2009. He told Press Gazette about how he began working on the story and why it’s a journalist’s job to hold the powerful to account. 

Wrongdoing or abuses of power by the police, particularly by senior officers and officials, would be high on the agenda for any investigative reporter or probably for any reporter.

If one of the primary responsibilities of newspapers is holding the powerful to account, there are few organisations that exercise more power than the police.

But the run-up to the stories I worked on was a scandal involving the former North Yorkshire chief constable, Grahame Maxwell, who narrowly avoided being sacked for nepotism the previous year – and still received a very large compensation payment when he retired early. That story threw up several issues which inspired the work in 2012 on senior police officers and officials, both regionally and nationally, which has been nominated for the award.

The trigger for the investigation, was probably the arrest of the chief constable of Cleveland Police in August 2011. The Yorkshire Post sells ‘over the border’ in Cleveland, Sean Price lives in North Yorkshire and it was one of those events that simply begged further investigation.

The circumstances brought into play wider concerns about how the public pay huge lawyer fees on behalf of chief police officers facing disciplinary proceedings as well as the actual wrongdoing at the highest levels of Cleveland Police itself.

It’s difficult to say how long investigations take – it’s usually a ‘piece of string’ scenario. There were three separate strands – Cleveland Police, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the chief officers’ unofficial trade union (Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA)) – and I wouldn’t say any of them are now off the agenda.

The research primarily revolved around searching through records of spending provided following FOI requests, researching internal police rules and regulations and researching the law on FOI to see how any refusals of requests could be challenged through complaints to the Information Commissioner.

I spoke to a lot of people, plenty of whom I couldn’t mention for obvious reasons. It was a combination of speaking to sources and using the Freedom of Information Act to get confirmation of what was suspected.

It’s great to be nominated again. The overriding thing for me is that it’s a validation of investigative work done by a regional newspaper and that is something the industry has to find ways to support and sustain.

We all accept the industry is changing and the use of modern technology to deliver news speedily is at the top of the agenda. Newspapers have to embrace the digital era. But it’s also crucial to keep sight of what our key responsibilities are and what our readers expect us to do.

One of them is holding the powerful to account through investigative work and local and regional newspapers have to find the time and resources to ensure that still happens.l

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