Paul Cheston leaves Evening Standard after 'absolute pleasure' of being courts correspondent for 23 years

The London Evening Standard's courts correspondent Paul Cheston is leaving the newspaper today after 28 years.

Cheston, 59, started at the Evening Standard in 1988 as a general reporter and moved to his current position in 1993.

He was given a valedictory ceremony at the Old Bailey today, a privilege ordinarily reserved for departing judges.

In a speech delivered at the ceremony, Cheston said: "This is an astonishing honour and a great privilege for a simple newspaperman. In fact it is probably my proudest achievement since I was 21 and passed the 100 words per minute shorthand exam – and I had to cheat to do that.

"I must confess to some trepidation today as the last time I stood before a judge in these courts was to be seriously dressed down by a judge who is now in high office in another part of the court system. He was very angry that the Evening Standard had broken some court order.

"In my defence I should say that it was a story that I had neither written nor knew anything about. Then I made the mistake of trying to tell him so. As the judicial storm crashed around my head, I did think: I don’t really deserve this."

He said it had been an "absolute pleasure every day for 23 years to get the chance to work in the most famous and most important court in the world".

But Cheston, who previously worked for the Diss Express, Middlesbrough Evening Gazette and Press Association, also spoke of the journalism industry's "sad trend away from specialist court reporting".

He said: "What happens in Her Majesty’s courts and in Her Majesty’s name should be of paramount importance to everyone in the land. Not only in legal and penal terms but in news values and – it just happens to be – cracking everyday drama.

"But only my paper and the Financial Times have a specialist court reporter. Partly I fear because they are expensive to train and difficult to find  someone with what used to be basic skills – a grasp of the law and fast shorthand.

"The days of Dave St George, Pat Clarke, Sue Clough, Joe Wood and Adrian Shaw are passed.

"But thankfully there are agencies at this court with highly talented reporters and the Evening Standard has recruited one of them, Tristan Kirk [from Central News]."

Cheston also made an appeal for the Old Bailey to "return to the days when all the most important trials were heard here".

He said: "It is a matter of great frustration that important cases are sent off to outside courts and TV cameras are camped outside Southwark, Inner London and even – God help us – Isleworth, when the great judges here are hearing comparative trivia.

"I have nothing against other courts but the only Old Bailey has the full weight and majesty of the law. It is the most famous court in the world and that should be reflected in the trials that take place here."

Cheston's career at the Standard has seen him covering courts from Truro in Cornwall to France and Germany.

He said the biggest cases he has worked on were: two involving Jeffrey Archer – one in 1987 when he was working for the London Daily News and a perjury trial in 2001 – the trial of Rosemary West in Winchester, the James Bulger trial in Preston and the Soham murders case at the Old Bailey.

Asked how his newspaper has changed in his time, Cheston said: "The Evening Standard has changed almost beyond recognition.

"When I started there were five editions and the deadlines ran through the afternoon. And of course we were printed on hot metal and based in the old Daily Express building in Fleet Street."

He added: "When the Lebedev family bought the paper.. Geordie Greig [the then editor] it was his idea to take it freesheet, which saved it from massive losses to now making a profit.

"But as a freesheet the deadlines came forward – it was one edition and one slip. Deadlines are very tricky for a live court reporter when court doesn't really start till 10.30.

"So the nature of reporting for the Standard has changed completely. But, having said that, the paper was saved and it's a healthy product now, and still a good product."

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