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High praise for regional press as shortlist for Paul Foot Award is revealed

Journalists from the Yorkshire Post, Doncaster Free Press and Camden New Journal are among those to have made the shortlist for this year’s Paul Foot Award For Campaigning Journalism.

Judges said this year’s contest had seen “some especially high quality entries from regional daily and weekly papers”, and so listed three in their final shortlist of seven.

Among those vying for the £5,000 top prize is Rob Waugh from the Yorkshire Post.

He has been shortlisted for an 18-month investigation which ended when six whistleblowers – who were sacked after telling the Yorkshire Post about wrong-doing in council children’s homes – won a £1m settlement.

The six had revealed shocking standards of care of vulnerable children but the council tried to undermine the allegations, the staff’s motives and Rob’s credibility.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that the Children’s Rights Director of the council had stopped the NSPCC from carrying out a full investigation of the allegations, and as a result of Rob’s investigation changes to whistle-blowing procedures have been called for.

Deborah Wain, from the Doncaster Free Press, is also shortlisted, for her revelations concerning an £37.5m investment by The Learning and Skills Council and Doncaster Council to Doncaster Education City, an integrated post-14 education system with a new college building fed by five community campuses.

Deborah’s reporting revealed the scheme had become a costly fiasco, and using the Freedom of Information Act she discovered big pay increases for Dr George Holmes, the college principal and chief executive of Doncaster Education City and huge payments to consultants.

The judges said: “When Holmes left for a University post, his successor David Gates was sent home after seven months and later dismissed with a big pay-off.

“An Ofsted report has suggested that Doncaster has ended up with an expensive new college building without any increase in educational standards. And that the governors spent too much money on departure packages for senior staff.

“Most of this would not have come to light without the work of Deborah Wain.”

Also shortlisted is Paul Keilthy from the Camden New Journal, who uncovered a racket in which council workers were emptying the houses of elderly or infirm people who had been transferred to nursing homes, and were then selling the possessions on eBay or to furniture shops.

As a result of his work Camden Council set up an investigation by its internal audit team and has introduced safeguards to reduce the risk of theft and measures to locate next-of-kin.

Judge said the regional entries were “particularly impressive” given the small staffs and relative lack of budget of local newspapers.

They said judging had never been so difficult, and also gave a special mention to Jon Austin from the Basildon Echo, who they said they were “particularly sad” to leave out of the final cut.

The award was set up in memory of former Private Eye, Daily Mirror and Guardian journalist Paul Foot, who was known for his left-wing politics and campaigns against miscarriages of justice. He died in 2004 aged 66.

This year’s winner will be announced at the Media and Spin Bar, Millbank Tower on October 15.

Also shortlisted are Phil Baty from The Times Higher Education Supplement; David Leigh and Rob Evans from The Guardian; Richard Brooks from Private Eye and free magazine The Salford Star.

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