A YELLOW Advertiser investigation has been nominated for one of the UK’s most prestigious journalism awards.
Reporter Charles Thomson has been shortlisted for the Private Eye Paul Foot Award for investigative and campaigning journalism.
Charles worked at the YA for eight years, of which he spent five investigating the alleged cover-up of a 1980s paedophile ring which abused dozens of children from Shoeburyness.
The investigation is now being turned into a podcast documentary series.
Charles was approached in early 2015 by retired child protection workers who’d been involved in an official 1989/90 investigation into the ring.
They asked him to investigate their enduring concerns over the way the case was handled. The two ringleaders – Dennis King and Brian Tanner (both now dead) – were given extremely generous last-minute plea deals, while none of the other abusers were ever prosecuted.
By working with former Essex police commissioner Nick Alston, Charles secured a fresh investigation into the case. That led to five new victims coming forward – but police decided not to pass the evidence to the CPS and no charges were brought.
Over the following years, Charles met sources who’d worked on the 1989/90 case and retained hundreds of pages of paperwork. Those documents contemporaneously recorded how charity workers providing therapy to the victims had reported threats and intimidation by police officers, after passing on intelligence that boys were naming a police officer as a regular visitor to Dennis King’s flat.
In 2018, Charles used public records to prove a link between the Shoebury ring and the infamous ‘Dirty Dozen’ paedophile gang, which killed at least three young boys, including Jason Swift.
Then, in 2019, he reported on the discovery of a secret document, kept hidden for 30 years, which revealed Dennis King had been a registered police informant.
The YA’s ‘Shoebury Sex Ring’ campaign has already won several national awards. Charles was declared a Local Hero at the British Journalism Awards, named by the Society of Editors as the UK’s best weekly newspaper journalist, and handed ITV and Channel 4’s Ray Fitzwalter Award for Investigative Journalism.
The story of the YA investigation is now set to be told in the Eastern Daily Press’s cold case documentary podcast series ‘Unfinished’, which has previously investigated the unsolved killings of Johanna Young, Jeanette Kempton and Michelle Bettles.
The Paul Foot Award was launched in 2005, in memory of the legendary investigative journalist. Mr Foot was best known for his years-long investigations into miscarriages of justice. He campaigned successfully on behalf of the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Four, and cast significant doubt on the verdict in the Lockerbie bombing trial.
The winner will be announced next week. The award is ordinarily presented by Private Eye editor Ian Hislop at a ceremony in London, but this year’s ceremony will be held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Past winners include John Sweeney, whose investigation into Shaken Baby Syndrome helped to overturn several convictions; Nick Davies, for exposing tabloid phone-hacking; and Amelia Gentleman, for uncovering the Windrush scandal.