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Police probe death threats to news website staff over report on killers' guilty verdict

Police are investigating after death threats were made to staff at an independent local news website.

Abusive comments directed at reporters and other readers were left below a Bedford Independent report on 15 April, shared on the paper’s Facebook page, about five men found guilty of murdering a drug dealer.

The poster was blocked from commenting, but later that night called the newspaper’s commercial director, Julia Course-Crofts, whose number could be found online, and left two “graphic” voicemail messages.

Managing editor Paul Hutchinson said the caller had described in one message how they had told the director they would “like to take a knife to your throat and kill you”, while in the other they had left a “barrage of abuse” and labelled the story “fake news”.

The director woke up to find the messages on her work phone.

Said Hutchinson: “This kind of behaviour is not acceptable. While these were only threats, journalists the world over are facing violence and murder from those who wish to silence the reporting of factual news.”

He said he believed a lack of court reporting and local news coverage was partly behind the reader’s reaction to the story, adding: “People are not used to seeing court reports in this way.

“When they then involve someone they’re connected to, they react in a manner that is most likely uncharacteristic but equally despicable.”

He said it was important for all newspaper staff to have “suitable protection” and for “threats like this to be dealt with severely”.

Bedfordshire Police have now identified the caller and are consulting news staff on what options are open to them, said Hutchinson. He said the police “have been brilliant and have taken this issue very seriously”.

A Bedfordshire Police spokesperson said: “We can confirm we are investigating a report of malicious communications. Enquiries are ongoing and we continue to update the victim.”

The Bedford Independent launched its news website in November 2018 and is regulated by Impress.

Press Gazette understands the site had only advertised its newsdesk email, but will now put an editorial number online.

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