Paul Lewis: Police tried to discourage our story

Guardian journalist Paul Lewis was named as reporter of the year at the British Press Awards last night for his series of stories about the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London.

The stories revealed that Tomlinson, who was a newspaper vendor, died last April after being struck from behind and throw to the ground.

Lewis told Press Gazette how his newspaper came under pressure from police to remove from its website a video, provided by a reader, which showed Tomlinson being pushed to the ground by officers.

The police had said earlier that Tomlinson had been on his way home from work at a nearby newsagent when he collapsed.

Lewis said: “The police came to the Guardian and asked us to remove the video from the website and we said no.

“There were definitely attempts I felt, personally, to dissuade me from pursuing this story…There were police officers trying to discourage us from pursuing the story and also trying to discourage the family from talking to us.

“That is in fact what makes it all the more satisfying. What journalists want really, often, is people that aren’t telling the truth and they want to find something out which disproves it.”

Lewis said the story about Tomlinson took six day to emerge as Guardian reporters used social media tools, such as Twitter, to unearth information from those that were present at the disturbances.

“Initially, we didn’t get the video but we were getting stuff that was making us question the official version of events,” Lewis said.

“I had a hunch at the beginning that the police’s version of events wasn’t true. I thought they were putting out misinformation.

“That served as a magnet. Whenever you put something out into the public domain people know to contact you. On that basis we got hold of the video.”

The video was given to the paper by an unnamed American fund manager who was in London on business.

“The scoop relied on the video, there is no doubt about it, but we had put a lot of effort into it beforehand,” Lewis said.

“At the time there wasn’t really anyone else writing the stories that we were writing, which were saying that witnesses had seen him [Tomlinson] knocked to the ground before he died.”

Lewis was critical of the reasons, he believed, more questions hadn’t been asked of the police’s version of events.

He said: “I would say that is the Crime Reporters Association for you. Back in the mid 1990s a lot of Lobby correspondents started to undo their degree of proximity to politicians. There was a sense that they were often being misled.

“I don’t think that has filtered through to crime reporters. I’m not a crime reporter but I think lots of crime reporters are blinkered by their proximity to senior police officers. And I think that is exactly what happened in this situation.”

The award is the second major press prize to recognise Lewis. In November he collected Bevins Prize for investigative journalism – the Rat Up a Drain Pipe award – at the Society of Editors conference for his stories about Tomlinson’s death.

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