Campaign to open sex abuse case wins Ray Fitzwalter award

Stephen Chapman's picture
by Stephen Chapman

A campaign to reopen a sex abuse case has won the inaugural Ray Fitzwalter award for investigative journalism.

Charles Thomson’s investigation for the Basildon-based Yellow Advertiser has won the journalist a £4k prize to fund future investigations.

His campaign began following Freedom of Information requests, which unearthed a series of compensation payments authorised by Essex Council, for ‘alleged abuse’ linked to its children’s departments, from the 1970s to the 1990s.

A former NHS manager came forward to share his concerns about how the authorities had handled an investigation into an alleged paedophile ring in Shoebury.

When other whistleblowers came forward with corroborating stories, Thomson arranged for them to meet then Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston – who in turn introduced them to the Chief Constable of Essex Police and a senior detective, and a decision was made to reopen a case from the early 1990s.

“I’m very honoured to have won this award, especially as I was up against two BBC candidates whose work was great,” he said.

“It’s a particular honour to win an award named after Ray Fitzwalter, who was a legendary investigative journalist, and it was a privilege to meet some of his friends and family.”

The award was launched in honour of the former World In Action editor to recognise the best investigative journalism by early career journalists outside the M25. It was presented by ITV’s Lucy Meacock at the University of Salford.

The award will now be an annual event, with organisers accepting submissions for the 2019 prize later this year.

“This was a brilliant piece of journalism which demonstrated that resourcefulness, determination and the nose for a story are far more important than big budgets,” added Andrew Fletcher, lecturer in journalism at the University of Salford.

“While some people may have written off local newspapers, Charles has shown the impact that smaller circulation publications can and do still have on public life, and the important role they still play within the communities they serve.”