Outgoing Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies has said “death knocks” were his least favourite part of the job, but that they led him to the “most important story” of his career so far after the Advertiser backed a successful campaign to change drug driving laws.
Davies, who was named Weekly Reporter of the Year at the Regional Press Awards four times and picked up his third award on the trot this year, was writing about his time at the Advertiser in a comment piece ahead of his departure.
He has taken voluntary redundancy as Trinity Mirror makes widespread cutbacks at the Croydon Advertiser, its associated titles and across all the newspapers formerly published by Local World which were bought by Trinity at the end of last year.
At the Leicester Mercury, Trinity Mirror has placed the entire five-strong features team at risk of redundancy. The Mercury has dominated the features category at the Regional Press Awards for a decade.
Davies has spent nearly eight years at the Trinity Mirror-owned title, where he began his career as a trainee reporter.
He said: “Death knocks, as they are crudely known, remain pretty much the only part of the job I dislike (most reporters will tell you the same) but, for every time I’ve been screamed, shouted or even spat at, there’s another where I was left amazed at how kind and welcoming people can be.”
Recalling one incident where a grieving father “swore at me down the street” he said the man then called him later that day to ask him to come back and that he went on to order dozens of copies of the Advertiser to show the resulting story to family and friends.
“I’d never felt as proud,” added Davies who also revealed how he had to “pluck up the courage” to knock on the door of Lillian Groves after her teenage son was killed by a car outside their home the night before.
“I was sent to the scene on a blazing hot Sunday morning to get the story. I knew where the house was but I knocked on every other door before plucking up the courage to call at hers,” he said.
“When I finally did, her grandmother politely told me it wasn’t the right time. A day later I was sat in their living room with another reporter, a father with a young child who was moved to tears as Lillian’s family talked about a girl they called ‘daddy’s little princess’.
“It later transpired that John Page, the driver who killed Lillian, had taken cannabis before getting behind the wheel but had not been charged with a drug-driving offence because of the lack of roadside testing devices.
“Lillian’s family picked themselves off the floor and, showing phenomenal courage, resolved, with the help of the Advertiser, to try and change the law. The Lillian’s Law campaign, which included a direct meeting with the Prime Minister, is the most important story I have been involved in.
“Lillian’s family’s efforts brought about a new offence which saw 8,000 people arrested for drug-driving in its first year.
“Its success is testament to one family’s determination, at considerable emotional cost, that no one else should know their pain, and in small part to the ability of a local newspaper, with support of the local MP, to be a force for change.”
Davies said his abiding memory of covering Croydon will be “seeing the best of people at the worst of times” but, he added: “It’s rarely felt like work, as if being paid to talk to people and write down what they say was somehow cheating.
“I feared someone would realise as much and make me do a ‘real’ job. Fortunately no one ever did.”