Scottish journalist of the year says Sunday Post pushing 'important' journalism as probe into orphanage where 400 children died sweeps awards - Press Gazette

Scottish journalist of the year says Sunday Post pushing 'important' journalism as probe into orphanage where 400 children died sweeps awards

Sunday Post reporter Gordon Blackstock picked up a hat-trick of awards for his investigation into an orphanage, run by Catholic nuns, where hundreds of children died over more than a century.

He tells Press Gazette that investigative journalists must be “dogged and determined” in their approach to stories.

Blackstock’s investigation into Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanarkshire, Scotland, revealed that up to 400 children had died in the home between 1864 and 1981 – more than the religious order that ran it, the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, had ever admitted.

Blackstock (pictured) was named Reporter of the Year and Journalist of the Year at the Scottish Press Awards, held in April, and took home Scoop of the Year for his Smyllum Park investigation.

The probe also won Front Page of the Year at the awards and saw the Sunday Post, owned by DC Thomson, named Scotland’s Newspaper of the Year.

Said Blackstock: “I guess the thing about Smyllum was, although when I first looked at it it was out of historic interest, the more I uncovered the more I started to see the bigger story.

“Former residents were still completely affected by it and were still trying to get answers.”

He added: “The religious order that ran it had previously estimated about 100 kids had died there. The real numbers are far higher and it’s something you think wouldn’t happen nowadays.

“It’s safe to assume that most, if not all, of the children are buried in the cemetery near Smyllum Park.”

Blackstock said he began investigating the orphanage in March 2017. The first stories were published six months later, in September – “It was a long slog,” he said.

While researching and writing the story, one of the former residents of Smyllum Park, Frank Doherty, who tipped Blackstock off about it, died.

“He’d been campaigning for years and tried to find out how many kids were buried but he never got the chance to see the story published,” said Blackstock.

“It was for him that the work was done, he was the origin of the story.”

The Sunday Post’s front page exclusive on the Smyllum Park scandal which was awarded Front Page of the Year at the 2018 Scottish Press Awards

Blackstock enlisted help from the BBC in order to produce the Smyllum Park investigation. BBC Radio 4 and a genealogist from the BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are all contributed to the report.

Blackstock said: “A former colleague at the Sunday Post now works for [radio programme] File on 4 and asked if there were any ideas that we had that we could work together on.

“It was a good way to maximise the impact of the story. They published a web story at the same time [as us] and did a documentary a couple of days later.”

Collaborating offers journalists the time to work on longer investigations and pool resources, seen recently with the Observer, Channel 4 News and New York Times scoop on the Cambridge Analytica data handling scandal.

For Blackstock the help of a genealogist was crucial for their research.

“We weren’t getting the answers we needed for the story from the Charity of Daughters,” he said. “In the end we had to manually sift through 15,000 death certificates to see if there were any under 18s where Smyllum was mentioned in the death certificate.

“You need to be dogged and determined and follow it through because it’s becoming increasingly frustrating for journalists when they’re dealing with the authorities.”

He said he believed the investigation was “indicative of the sort of stuff we do at the [Sunday Post]. The journalists are given the time and resources to get into investigations that they’re passionate about.

“We all have stuff that we’re working on just now that are long term projects, like Smyllum Park, and there’s no massive pressure on us to immediately produce the goods.”

He added: “I’m actually quite lucky in the sense that my boss is a former reporter so he will give you room to do investigations if that’s what it takes.”

For Blackstock it is evidence that the Sunday Post is returning to its former glory. “Historically it was quite a campaigning newspaper and it’s great that the paper is getting that recognition again,” he said.

“I’ve been at the Sunday Post for 13 years and when I first started there we didn’t get a sniff of a nomination, let alone winning

“But in that time there’s been a real push towards doing important journalism to help get the Sunday Post recognised.”

Blackstock began working at the Sunday Post as a trainee in 2005 after finishing university and said the experience held by the rest of the news room spurred him on.

“All the journalists in the team had awards and I was starting to feel a bit self-conscious not having any,” he said.

Editor of the Sunday Post, Richard Prest said: “Investigative journalism is a key part of our strategy and in the last year we have broken a number of stories that have set the agenda in Scotland.

“Investigative journalism couldn’t be more important at the moment.”

Picture: Scottish Press Awards

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3 thoughts on “Scottish journalist of the year says Sunday Post pushing 'important' journalism as probe into orphanage where 400 children died sweeps awards”

  1. Fantastic investigative work.

    Yet the police have decided that there is “no evidence of criminal activity”. In any other civilised country, the unmarked grave of hundreds of children being discovered would be a national outrage. Not in Scotland where it is swept under the carpet for some strange reason.

  2. As a long term victim of a series of corrupt police Scotland criminal negligence, obstruction and vexatious and persistent abuse in the course of justice, police corruption has today, seriously affected my daily peace of mind, deprived me of my very substantial life savings and investment assets, and been the major factor in the loss of my £500,000 B-listed family home in Ayr. The crooked element of this inept and deeply institutionalised public service have also knowingly and willingly assisted my fraudster, people trafficking and money laundering ex-wife, to wrongfully yet successfully dupe and mislead Sheriff MacKay at Ayr last October, to have me convicted for offences that were not criminal acts. This was partly achieved by police failure to provide the Procurator Fiscal with crucial trial evidence, in my favour, because police at Ayr had a disreputable history of poor professional standards, dreadful community protection, and a lazy and incompetent means of handling my serious and slightly complex criminal complaints against the U divisions’ organised criminal groups, and
    the large amount of financial data and evidence in my possession which they again and again failed to pass to, for example, the Economic Crime Unit at Gartcosh. With over 2,000 pages of evidence of many such crimes, the police were still unable to have a local constable handle this impossible task, which contained evidence also of huge monies being laundered from Scotland to China over the past two decades. I demanded that my large files of evidence be returned to my safe keeping, because I fear that police shall lose or shred material that has a vital role to play in my defence against further police corrupt actions. I know that PSA and PIRC and PSD are not fit for purpose of course. I shall be happy to reveal all to Gordon at the Press and Journal, Sunday Post etc.
    Jim Mc Colm. 07936739733
    Business Development Manager, Scotland-China Chamber of Commerce.

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