Monday, 25 January 2010


The case of the brothers who tortured two boys has shocked South Yorkshire and beyond. “You evil b******s”, screamed one of the victim’s mothers last week. Sheffield Crown Court heard probably the worst crimes committed by children in this country since James Bulger over two decades ago. But what is perhaps even more concerning than the horrific evidence is how the boys were brought up at home - a complete lack of discipline and instead a diet of drugs, sex and explicit films.

The judge banned their identification because it would harm their rehabilitation, although this was contested by the media. Naming bans nowadays carry little weight anyway, as you can easily find out what somebody is called by searching online forums - and, even so, both boys were well known in the Edlington community. The courtroom scene is pictured [Getty Images].

As much as what they did last April was almost unbelievable, I can understand where the judge was coming from. He wants to see them eventually get out of prison reformed - given the care and positive attention inside that they have lacked so far in their lives. It has cost a fortune to rename and rehouse the Bulger killers, so that has to be used as a template. The most important aspect of this case is not condemning the boys’ actions - as tempting as that might be for the media - but rather look at how the authorities can use what happened to ensure this is never repeated again.

* * *

It was pleasing to see The FA Cup back to its best this weekend. Tottenham being held by Leeds, Stoke putting out Arsenal, Reading beating Burnley and Southampton edging past Ipswich. Even the lowest-ranked team, Notts County, got a replay against Wigan. If Sol Campbell [pictured, Independent] wanted The FA Cup this season then he would have had more chance staying put in Nottinghamshire rather than going back to the Gunners.

Three weeks ago I criticised fans of clubs for not turning out to games, but attendances were pretty good this time in the fourth round. I went to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday to watch Newcastle lose 4-2 (in what must be one of the worst refereeing performances I’ve ever seen), and the Toon brought over 3,000 fans from the north-east with only 10 days of notice, which I thought was a sterling effort. Shame the same could not be said for the man in the middle.

Anyway, overall it was good to have a few upsets over the weekend - and the fifth round draw has thrown up some tasty ties like Southampton v Portsmouth and Derby v Birmingham. I’m pretty sure Leeds will get there too - I wouldn’t fancy a midweek trip to Elland Road ten years ago or today. Old ’Arry must be quaking in his boots...
> By the way, you may like to know that I typed this blog with only one hand. The other one got injured playing football yesterday. Hope it's still a good read ;)

Monday, 18 January 2010


Poor old Hull. It usually fares pretty badly in lists of desirable UK cities. A report today showed it is suffering most from the effects of the recession. Brighton, on the other hand, is the best place to be for economic growth. The ‘Cities Outlook 2010’ report said the English cities most likely to suffer longest from the downturn were Stoke, Burnley, Barnsley and Doncaster. On the other hand, the best places to be are Milton Keynes, Reading and Cambridge. Spot a trend? Northern cities will struggle, southern cities will prosper.

This is hardly surprising considering that most of the northern towns are still suffering the effects of industrial decline and the southern areas mentioned have economies based more around services. Another point is that they are not only closer to London, but generally much better connected by transport links.

Hull claims it is being victimised as the data does not include its more prosperous areas on the outskirts. It must be noted that the city is surrounded by Grimsby and Cleethorpes, which are hardly thriving economies either. Looking at Brighton, it’s well-connected despite being at the bottom of the country, has a strongly educated workforce and a solid private sector.

So what do we do about this divide? It’s not really acceptable that many northern cities are still suffering from the fall of industrial Britain. That’s something that should have been sorted out years ago, but the unemployment rate has continued to rise and will not get any better until well after the recession finishes. The government needs to ensure that their spending prioritises cities like Hull, as although I like being a southerner, it’s about time the country was a bit more economically even.

* * *

It’s an absolute tragedy that Sunday Mirror journalist Rupert Hamer died in Helmand. I’ve read a variety of biographies by current and former foreign correspondents such as Kate Adie, Jeremy Bowen and Jon Snow, which has confirmed to me what a dangerous but important job they do. Media executives will meet with Ministry of Defence officials on Wednesday to discuss war reporting in Afghanistan and I can only hope they reach an agreement that will go some distance to trying to avoid another media casualty.

It’s vital that we get to hear what is going on in foreign conflicts from our own reporters, and the death of one journalist shouldn’t deter this. When war reporters go abroad they know what they are getting themselves in for. As HR Knickerbocker once said: "Whenever you find hundreds and thousands of sane people trying to get out of a place and a little bunch of madmen trying to get in, you know the latter are reporters".

Monday, 11 January 2010


It was a privilege to work at one of Britain's biggest selling newspapers for a week. I learnt so much behind-the-scenes at the Daily Mail simply by listening to editorial conversations and speaking to journalists, but I was also given a wide variety of researching and writing to get on with. The Mail are based at Northcliffe House, near High Street Kensington tube, which meant a three-and-a-half hour round trip on the train everyday from Leigh-on-Sea. It's not too bad when you've got a good newspaper and plenty of reading. I was pleased simply to have been offered a placement at the Mail, seeing as I didn't previously know anyone who works for DMGT, but made some valuable contacts in a great newsroom by the end of it. Everybody I met was helpful and supportive, so I would imagine it to be a great environment to work in all the time. Exciting, to say the least...

I arrived in Kensington last week in eager anticipation of what awaited me at Northcliffe House. The building looks pretty simple from outside, but fantastic when you go inside - it's even got a water feature on the first floor. On arrival, I was taught how the Mail uses a variety of databases and sources for researching people and places, and got to see the vast online and physical libraries. I later did some researching for a story on cheap ski holidays and wrote a story myself about British people's regrets over throwing away items. This story made it onto page three of Tuesday's paper, so I was pretty pleased with that for a first day's work.

I was given a call on Monday evening to tell me that I should get to Luton Magistrates' Court for 10am the next day. There was a very interesting case going on about a group of seven Muslims protesting against the war on Iraq during a soldiers' homecoming parade in Bedfordshire. I got to court and had a chat about the story with the BBC local reporter, who was soon joined by journalists from the Press Association, ITV and a local paper. All of us took up a place on the press bench in the court and listened through a fascinating case, which included lots of CCTV footage. I learnt a lot about court reporting just from speaking to the other journalists there and getting together some facts and quotes on the case with Lucy from the Daily Mail. The end product was my first national newspaper byline, which I was very pleased with! Today, five were found guilty and two not-guilty.

I was grateful that although all the trains across the country were being cancelled last Wednesday, I was still able to make it into west London from south-east Essex. Once I had battled through the snow, I spent the rest of my time in office writing about it. I was putting together what become known for the week as 'snow shorts' - snippets of funny events or statistics that had happened around the country. The majority of these came from PA or local wires, but I also found a few by scouring local newspaper websites and eight of the 12 that were eventually published on Thursday were mine, which was pleasing. It formed part of this story, which was being constantly updated throughout the week.

I had been working with the newsteam from Monday to Wednesday and moved to the sportsdesk for my last two days. What interested me most about working with the sports team was their reliance on data, and the need for accurate number-crunching. Finally my maths A-Level was coming in useful! I researched parts of an 'Ultimate Guide to the Angola Action' feature on the Africa Cup of Nations, which started on Sunday, and my first prediction of a game to watch wasn't bad at all. The opening match, Angola v Mali, finished 4-4! I was also tasked with doing some statistical research on England and South Africa's cricket test record in Johannesburg, as well as compiling a factfile on former Newcastle midfielder Lee Bowyer, for a feature in Saturday's paper.

My last day at the Daily Mail was a hugely eventful one, although it started pretty calmly. I was researching Tottenham's abysmal record away at the top four - they haven't won a league game at any of the four grounds since August 1993 - and put together some statistics using Soccerbase. I also put together a small feature as a boxout for the Patrick Viera story [pictured], on footballers who have played in England, gone abroad and come back again, which made Saturday's paper and online - 'Five Other Players Who Returned to England'. But later in the day, we heard that a bus carrying the Togo team to the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola had been attacked by rebels, killing the driver and injuring players. This was a massive story because of its implications for football around Africa - including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - and I immediately started researching a history of football-related African violence, as well as some statistics on Angola itself and transcribing quotes from a Eurosport player interview. These were sent through to the journalist for his story, which was rushed through for the first edition. Two later editions followed, where the story was given more prominence, and by the final edition I saw next morning, it has taken up the whole back page with an in-depth spread inside. A great example of how a story develops and another good experience during a great week.

Monday, 4 January 2010


I love listening to many regional accents, especially Geordie. Living in Sheffield has exposed me to many new types of voice that I'd never have heard staying in Essex. Now, a series of academic studies has found that Britain's regional accents in the north are thriving, which is good news if you live in Newcastle [pictured], Liverpool, Manchester or Birmingham. Conversely, Essex and Kent are beginning to lose their own distinctive accents, which is a shame for my own home county, but I've never really spoken like a proper Essex lad anyway.

It's interesting how you pick up accents when being around people. I have sometimes been heard, since living in Yorkshire, to say 'eh up' or 'bath' (not 'barth') on my return to Essex. I don't really want to say those things - I'd rather keep my heritage, thank you. But then I'm sure many northerners are proud of the identity that comes with their voice. It's great that people are proud of where they come from. One of the first things I tell people is that I'm from Southend-on-Sea. But when I hear a Geordie, they don't need to tell me they're from Newcastle. You can kind of guess.

* * *

The noughties will unfortunately be remembered by many as a decade of terrorism. A decade when fear was struck into the hearts of citizens worldwide at who might be next. England, Indonesia, Spain, the USA and Afghanistan have all suffered devastating attacks on innocent civilians. Now Prime Minister Gordon Brown has confirmed full body scanners [pictured in Daily Mirror] will be introduced at Britain's airports in the wake of the attempted plane attack over Detroit on Christmas Day. We are pulling out all the stops to try and stop terrorists but there are still fears that this will not be enough.

Security has always been tight at airports. I remember flying before 9/11, and it wasn't as if you could just walk onto the plane then. But terrorists seem so determined to do their 'duty' that it's unlikely we will ever completely remove the threat of aeroplane bombers. There will always be some way of cracking technology, as the shoe bomber and Detroit attempt have showed. What concerns me is that whilst all this money is being pumped into airline security, what about trains? I regularly travel on the London Underground and don't think I've ever been searched, even during rush-hour. It would simply be impractical to scan luggage and people before boarding trains as it would grind the system to a halt. But whilst all this focus is on planes, we must remember that the only successful major terrorist attack in this country over the last decade was 7/7 - on trains and buses. We must ensure that this is never repeated again.

* * *

On a lighter note, there were lots of positives to take out of this weekend's FA Cup third-round. Colchester got hammered 7-0 at Preston, Newcastle avoided a slip up at Plymouth, Manchester United went out and ITV correctly chose a good upset for their Saturday night game at Reading. But there was also a major negative from the weekend. People just didn't turn up to watch some of the games. Wigan attracted a pitiful 5,335 to their all-Premier League tie with Hull, Sheffield Wednesday got just 8,690 for their home defeat to Crystal Palace and only 12,474 turned up for Manchester City's win at Middlesborough. All of these crowds are significantly down on normal attendances for league games at these clubs, and the turnout was hardly better at many other stadiums.

Interestingly, all three of the above attendances are quoted for teams who are struggling in the league at the moment, which may therefore be a reflection of fans thinking their managers attach little importance to The FA Cup, as they are so concerned with staying up. But nothing beats the 'magic' of the competition. I've been to some classic FA Cup games over the years - Southend v Chelsea and Southend v Canvey Island stick in the memory. More clubs should ensure they lower their ticket prices for cup games, as it's a good opportunity to get youngsters involved with clubs and make them come back for more later in the season. This isn't a disrespect to the cup - it's merely ensuring that it is maintained as the best competition in the world.