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Downing Street moves to kill an East Kent Mercury story failed – despite hurried press day calls to the editor by the PM’s press secretary, Alistair Campbell.
Graham Tutthill, chief reporter of the Mercury’s Dover edition, discovered that a rival weekly had been given an exclusive by Tony Blair about the asylum seeker situation in Dover.
Tutthill – who was praised by the Commission for Racial Equality for his sensitive asylum seeker coverage last year – managed to get hold of the copy and wrote it as the page 3 lead in the Dover Mercury.
But having got wind of the Mercury’s spoiler, Dover MP Gwyn Prosserintervened, demanding that editor, Graham Smith, pull the story.
When Smith dug his heels in and refused, the MP said he would have to take the matter higher.
Smith was soon to realise just how high.
Says Smith: “First I had a telephone call from a Downing Street pressofficer asking us to kill the story.
“I said no, because it was so important. Then, just as that week’s edition was about to be printed, Alistair Campbell called – less than an hour before Prime Minister’s Questions – so it’s fair to say he had more pressing matters at the time.”
Campbell asked Smith to kill the story because of the potential harm it could do to Mr Prosser’s relationship with the Mercury’s rival.