Journalist of the Year Michael Gillard could not accept his award in person at the British Journalism Awards on Monday night, partly because he can no longer attend public events in London since exposing gangster David Hunt in the Sunday Times.
Instead his friend and journalistic collaborator Laurie Flynn accepted the award on his behalf – dedicating it in part to the whistleblowers from inside the police and elsewhere who come forward to tell the truth in the public interest.
Gillard was recognised for an 11-year investigation into gangster David Hunt which culminated in a libel victory against him in July of this year which enabled the paper to expose the full extent of his criminal activities.
Gillard first described Hunt as the “head of a criminal network which Scotland Yard regards as too big to take on” in the Sunday Times in May 2010.
This prompted Hunt to sue and Gillard to contact the Met Police because Hunt was demanding access to leaked police files. The Met’s response was to launch a mole-hunt and its own legal action seeking recovery of the documents and an order banning the Sunday Times from using them.
The Sunday Times won that legal battle in November 2011.
Flynn (pictured above) paid tribute to Gillard saying: “Hello Michael wherever you are.
“You have a huge capacity for friendship as well as a huge capacity for hard work, for setting your own targets, for being autotelic, for not doing what you are told all the time. And that is something that we need to recover.
“Journalism is an individual responsibility. Freedom of speech is an individual responsibility. Freedom of expression is an individual responsibility. And your courage is I hope contagious, very contagious.”
Talking about Gillard's long legal battles on the Hunt story, he said: “I’m deeply proud that you have won this award. I know you would want me to thank all your colleagues who have stood by you. I know you would want me to thank your wonderful lawyers who stood by you, and your QC who acted so memorably in your defence.
“Michael really has a huge capacity for hard work, tremendous empathy and social skills, a tremendous capacity to drink me under the table and to drink the table under the table.
“Michael also has a deep and enduring faith in a truly independent journalism, of genuine disclosure and he also has a wonderful capacity to laugh and have fun.
“There is one other thing I know Michael would like me to do…He would like me to thank all the whistleblowers, the people who come forward in the public interest fearlessly and tell the truth.
“He’d like to thank the honest police officers who have come forward to tell the truth about some of the huge hidden scandals in London, the Stephen Lawrence murder and another shocking murder – the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private detective, in South East London 27 years ago.
“And I know Michael would like me very much to say how much he admires Alastair Morgan and his sweetheart Kirsteen (pictured below at the event) for continuing against all the odds to probe the truth about why it is the Metropolitan Police continues to cover up this shameful murder and who caused it.
“I’d also like to thank Derek Haslam, a police officer of enormous courage whose been driven out of the force and has worked undercover to try to help the Morgan family. These are also award-winning heroic figures who inspire us all.”
The David Hunt expose was also named Investigation of the Year by the British Journalism Awards judges – beating The Guardian's Snowden Files stories and The Times for its ongoign work on child sex grooming.
Sunday Times Insight editor Jonathan Calvert picked up the Investigation of the Year prize on Gillard's behalf and said: "It was a very meticulous piece of journalism which depended on notebooks that stretched back 11 years and ended up with a very high profile court case. Throughout it all Mike’s own safety has been in danger.
"Unfortunately the reason he can’t be here today is because I can’t actually attend public events in London as a result of the story.
“I can tell you that all his colleagues at The Sunday Times are very, very proud of him. We are delighted to accept this award on his behalf.”