WDP hits out at 'insensitive' hovercraft flak

By Mary Stevens

The Western Daily Press has attacked a rival paper and accused it of “incredible insensitivity” after a story it published questioned the future of a hovercraft bought following a WDP campaign.

The Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News said the hovercraft was on “borrowed time” following the takeover of the local boat rescue charity by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.

Money for the rescue craft was raised by the WDP after the death of five-year-old Lelaina Hall on the mud flats of nearby Berrow last summer. The campaign raised £115,000 in nine weeks and it won Community Campaign of the Year at this month’s Regional Press Awards.

Ken Bird, editor-in-chief of the Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News, said: “As the paper for Burnham and Highbridge, the Weekly News has attempted to bring our readers the fullest information regarding the Lelaina Hall tragedy and the subsequent action to improve safety on our beaches.

“We are not going to enter into a war of words with a rival publication – we will simply present the facts and continue to serve our community.”

WDP editor Terry Manners said: “I was extremely distressed to read the report in the Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News.

“It would be so easy for me to get into the game of tit for tat and scoring points against a weekly newspaper that is trying to drum up controversy in a clumsy way, but, because I want to maintain the dignity of little Lelaina in death and go forward with her wonderful family in new campaigns next year, I have decided to make no further comments.”

It is the second time the WDP has had an argument with the local newspaper group. In the aftermath of Lelaina’s death, it put up posters around the town advertising the campaign. The Bridgwater Mercury ran a story about local councillors complaining about the posters.

The WDP published a piece directed at the Mercury, saying: “It is time to concentrate on real journalism and the issues surrounding the tragic death of Lelaina Hall. Amateur editorials about flyposting will not save lives. We will do that job for you. However, if any one of your staff of two or three would be interested in a journalism course with our organisation, please do not hesitate to contact our newsdesk.”

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