Paul Foot Award winner emphasises value of FoI

The Private Eye Paul Foot Award for campaigning journalism was this week shared between The Guardian’s investigative team of David Leigh and Rob Evans, and Deborah Wain of the Doncaster Free Press.

Wain discovered corruption among the leaders of Doncaster Education City. The £100m project to revolutionise teenagers’ education in the town had fallen into chaos without local people or councillors knowing.

Leigh and Evans won for their three-year investigation into British arms firm BAE Systems, during which they revealed that the company paid £1m to Saudi Prince Bandar to preserve a lucrative arms deal.

Like many awards entrants, Wain often used the Freedom of Information Act in her 18-month investigation.

She revealed that Dr George Holmes, DEC’s chief executive and now vice-chancellor at Bolton University, had been given a 50 per cent pay increase and that the scheme paid out £1m in consultancy fees.

She said: ‘Local newspapers are best placed to hold the workings of local authorities up to scrutiny on behalf of the public, but it is not always easily achieved when you are part of a small team producing a variety of work on a day-to-day basis.

‘I would like to emphasise how crucial the FoI Act has been in uncovering details of spending.

‘My best stories were founded on FoI requests, so attempts to restrict its use should be strongly resisted by all journalists.’

Leigh, The Guardian’s investigations editor, said: ‘It was nice to be mentioned in the same breath as Paul Foot. I use to handle his copy at The Guardian when he wrote a column. I still miss him – he was a great man.

‘It was nice to win because it has been a very long slog. For a lot of that time we did it on our own; no one else was interested.”.

Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, said: ‘The judges had a very difficult choice. So we took a leaf out of the Prime Minister’s book and decided not to make it.

‘There are therefore two winners: one international juggernaut of a story brilliantly uncovered by a top national team and the other a first-class domestic story doggedly revealed by a lone reporter on a local paper.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, who was on the judging panel, said Wain’s ‘tenacious and well-executed investigation’showed ‘local journalism at its valuable best”.

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