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Revelations in Echo forced councillor's resignation

The Lincolnshire Echo has also been on the trail of disgraced former council leader Jim Speechley, publishing a string of revelations of his abuse of power forcing the Conservative councillor to resign his post.

He was jailed on Friday for 18 months after an eight-week trial where he was found guilty of misconduct while in public office.

The paper dug up a series of exclusive revelations about the local politician during its year-long campaign to force him to resign.

They included details of how he abused his powers to authorise illegal payments of taxpayers’ money.

An independent auditor’s report later confirmed the Echo’s allegations.

Speechley eventually agreed to step down in 2002.

Last Friday the Echo produced a special 3pm late edition (below) carrying details of the crown court’s verdict and the judge’s sentence on his attempt to influence the route of a by-pass to his own advantage.

The following day it published seven pages written by Sharon Edwards, the Echo’s local government correspondent and the only journalist present for the vast majority of the eight-week trial.

In the past three years Sharon has won six national awards for her coverage of the Echo’s Speechley Files.

A special module was also created on the Echo’s website for the Speechley trial. You can read its coverage here.

In December 2001, the newspaper reported on how the then leader had failed to disclose ownership of his field at Barbers Drove while campaigning for the new bypass.

Less than two months later, it reported how the council’s solicitor Peter Burns was still on full pay 11 months after he was suspended on allegations of incompetence.

Throughout 2002, the Echo kept the pressure on the council, in particular the ruling Conservative group, to put its house in order.

In April 2002, it revealed how the council had given an unlawful £150,000 grant to south Lincolnshire firm QV Foods.

In June of the same year, it told the story of the multi-million pound computers-for-schools contract and how Speechley helped one firm gain access to the project.

But it was the Echo campaign for publication of an auditor’s investigation into the authority which gained the most high-profile support.

Taxpayers paid £450,000 for the two-year investigation but had no automatic right to see its results. Both the Echo and KPMG itself were inundated with letters and e-mails following the newspaper’s Let Us In On The Secret front page of February 2002.

In the coming weeks scores of readers made the same demands through the daily Your View letters page.

Speechley himself backed the campaign.

The highly-critical public interest report was published three months later, following which the Echo led calls for Speechley to resign from public office – which he finally did in September.

  • Read how former Lincolnshire Echo journalist Richard Orange played a key role in bringing the council misconduct case to court, here.

    Do you have a story about the regional press? Ring 0116 227 3122/3121, or
    e-mail pastill@nep.co.uk