Snowden leaks, corporate tax avoidance and PPI insurance scandal among 2013 Paul Foot award shortlist

Private Eye and The Guardian have announced the shortlist for the 2013 Paul Foot Award.

The Paul Foot Award for Campaigning and Investigative Journalism was created in honour of the investigative journalist who died in 2004.  

The winner will be awarded a cheque for £5,000 at the awards ceremony at BAFTA in London on 25 February.

Each of the runners up will receive £1,000.

The shortlisted stories include investigations from a look into the hidden face of a deprived community to the mass world-wide surveillance of British and US security services.

Other shortlisted stories involved financial scandals, lobbyists buying access at Westminster as well as a campaign against gangs.  

The judging panel released a brief profile on all six nominees in alphabetical order.

 

Tom Bergin, Reuters – Corporate tax practices

Tom Bergin’s stories examined the contrived structures used by big businesses to shield their income from tax, and the authorities’ failure to address the issue. In the course of his research, and over a dozen stories, Bergin went through hundreds of company accounts from registers across the world, and waded through more than 1,000 LinkedIn profiles and hundreds of job advertisements to piece together how companies like Google and Amazon avoid paying tax in Britain.

The complexity of the subject matter meant Bergin spent a great deal of time with academics, as well as accounting and legal experts. Part of Bergin’s longer 18 month focus on corporate tax practices, his articles helped to drive corporate tax avoidance to the top of the international political agenda, receiving widespread coverage both in the UK and overseas.

 

Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake, Sunday Times – Westminster for Sale

The Insight Team’s three-part undercover investigation exposed how private companies and lobbyists are offered the opportunity to buy access and influence within the Houses of Parliament. Three peers resigned the whip after being filmed offering to ask parliamentary questions, lobby ministers and host events on the House of Lords terrace for cash.

Two were suspended following an official investigation, while a third was cleared of rule breaking but apologised for bringing the House into disrepute. The chairman of a powerful Commons committee was filmed boasting that he had coached a business associate on his evidence before the MPs – though he later told the authorities he was only joking and was cleared of breaking the rules.

The investigation also showed the way external lobbyists pull strings in parliament. One was filmed boasting he had masterminded a House of Lords debate to push a paying client’s agenda, and fed the opening speech to a peer who read it out almost ‘verbatim’.

In the wake of the team’s disclosures, David Cameron announced plans for a new statutory register of lobbyists and moved to tighten the rules allowing select committee chairmen to take outside interests that conflict with their work, and Nick Clegg announced new legislation to expel rogue peers from the Lords.

 

David Cohen, Evening Standard – Frontline London

David Cohen’s campaign this year was his toughest yet, as he sought to access London’s violent criminal gangs. The campaign took five months to plan and saw Cohen having to win the trust of gang members, and even help a few of them exit “the roads” via social enterprises supported by small grants from the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund. Cohen struck a fine balance between humanising those he met – a chaotic, hardcore group of young people – without ignoring what they had become.

The campaign had a remarkable degree of success and became truly interactive, as Cohen sought to deliver a hard hitting investigation, as well as champion social change. Following his campaign, three social enterprises have launched, run by former criminal gang members who demonstrated a desire to turn their lives around.

The campaign also jump-started politicians to act. Government Minister Nick Hurd agreed to release £3.8 million of government money to help address the problem, and Mayor Boris Johnson has appointed a Gang’s Czar and begun to organise a Gangs Roundtable and Gangs Summit.

Aasma Day, Lancashire Evening Post – Life on the margins of society: Preston Twilight Investigation

In a remarkable glimpse into life on the margins of society, Day was given six weeks off diary to investigate the ‘hidden world on our doorstep’, involving pawn shops, food banks, soup kitchens and loan sharks.

Day mixed with people from all walks of life, and spent time with some of the organisations and charities helping those who are struggling. She also walked the city centre at night talking to the homeless, including one man who had not bought any food for five years, living instead from supermarket dustbins.

Day’s investigation received widespread praise from all sections of the community – the individuals themselves, MPs, charities, police chiefs and the leader of Preston Council. In spite of the relentless attacks on their editorial budgets, the judges commended the many regional newspapers, including the Lancashire Evening Post, who still carry out impressive investigations on limited manpower, to tackle the issues important to their local communities.

James Dean, The Times – Fakes, fraud and forgery in Lloyds selling scandal

James Dean went undercover to investigate how Lloyds Banking Group was dealing with payment protection insurance (PPI) compensation claims worth billions of pounds. After The Times published its first report of his findings – which Citizens Advice described as “absolutely appalling” – the Financial Conduct Authority, the City regulator, asked the newspaper to hand over the evidence he had gathered in his investigation.

Posing as a graduate trainee, Dean navigated lengthy interviews, stringent vetting processes, metal detectors and X-ray machines to obtain a job as a complaints handler at Lloyds’ largest PPI processing unit. Carrying a voice recorder while undercover, he was told that information on key documents had been forged by some bank salesmen, and was instructed to effectively turn a blind eye to the risk of fraud.

He was told that many customers would give up pursuing their claims if Lloyds rejected them, making it “a numbers game”. He was told that the job could be “morally difficult”.

Dean photographed an internal Lloyds document showing that in some cases, critical documents, including copies of agreements where customers allegedly agreed to buy PPI, had gone missing. Antonio Horta-Osorio, the chief executive of Lloyds, was later questioned about the findings in front of the Treasury Select Committee.

James Ball, Julian Borger, Nick Davies, Nick Hopkins, Paul Johnson and Alan Rusbridger The Guardian – The Snowden Files: How GCHQ watches your every move

This investigation, taken from the Edward Snowden leaks, revealed for the first time the extent of mass surveillance undertaken by GCHQ, and the remarkably close relationship the agency has with its US equivalent, the National Security Agency. The Guardian revealed the National Security Agency funded some of GCHQ’s activities to secure access to, and influence over, Britain’s intelligence gathering programmes.

A team of six spent a number of weeks on a campaign that was exhaustively checked to ensure that it did not threaten our national security. The Guardian revealed how GCHQ covertly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s telephone calls and internet traffic, all without any form of public acknowledgement or debate. This became one of the biggest stories of the decade, sparking an emergency debate and several other set-piece debates in Parliament around the legal and supervisory framework under which GCHQ operates. The story also had international ramifications – even Barack Obama was forced to respond.

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