'So, farewell then Footie. Crooks and swindlers the length and breadth of the country must be breathing a sigh of relief'

Fearless: Foot risked his job at the Mirror to lead an NUJ protest march

Paul Foot has been synonymous with the kind of investigative journalism that helps the underdog, exposing criminals who prey on the innocent and campaigning for the guilty to get their come-uppance.

So it was no surprise on his untimely death this week to see this tribute on the journalists’ Fleetstreet Forum website: “So, farewell then Footie. I’m sure that crooks and swindlers the length and breadth of the country are breathing a sigh of relief.”

It was one of many which showed the affection and respect with which Foot, former columnist for the Daily Mirror and latterly for The Guardian, drew from his peers.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: “Paul came to The Guardian 10 years ago. His column was – of course – politically committed. It was also fearless and frequently very funny. He pioneered the art of the investigative column, ferreting facts out of the unlikeliest places and knitting them into a commentary. He was a one-off, and we’ll miss him terribly.”

Terry Pattinson, the Daily Mirror NUJ FoC, who worked alongside Foot in a staff battle with then Mirror Group chief executive David Montgomery, remembers “a popular intellectual figure” at the newspaper.

“He ran a very good ship,” said Pattinson, recalling Foot’s investigative unit. “He used to break some big stories. He was a dedicated socialist and cared very deeply about people.

He spent a lot of hours on the phone to people even when there was no hope of a story getting in the paper, trying to get behind the scenes to help them.”

Recalling that Foot led a march of Mirror Group staff against Montgomery in 1993, he said: “He was very brave because those of us who stood up all got shot at dawn.

“He never stood for union office despite the fact he would have made an excellent union leader. He always felt he could do better fighting from the back benches.”

Current Mirror editor Richard Wallace told his readers: “(Foot) was a great champion for Mirror readers.

There was no investigation too large or too small that he wouldn’t touch.”

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Paul was a fantastic campaigning journalist who remained a constant thorn in the side of the powerful and corrupt. He asked the questions too many others shied away from and he will be sorely missed by all who seek the truth and believe in justice. He was a credit to journalism and an inspiration to all those who believe in peace, social justice and the power of journalism to change things for the better.”

Foot’s first experience of journalism was at University College, Oxford, editing Isis. He joined the Daily Record in 1961, moving to The Sun and the Daily Telegraph in the mid-sixties. In 1967 he joined Private Eye, remaining until 1972, when he became editor of Socialist Worker. However, he was best known for his work at the Daily Mirror, where he first became a leader writer in 1972.

During a controversial dispute between Mirror Group staff and David Montgomery, Foot left the paper in 1993, claiming unfair dismissal.

Press Gazette, where Foot had also written a column during the 1980s, published one of his Mirror columns which Monty had banned.

Foot held the George Orwell prize for 1995, was twice journalist of the year in the What the Papers Say awards, and their journalist of the decade in the 1990s. In 1980 the British Press Awards named him best campaigning journalist.

Having survived a major heart operation in 1999, he died of a heart attack last Sunday.

by Jean Morgan

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