AddThis SmartLayers

Tip-off gives Echo a head start

It’s a news editor’s nightmare.

You take a day off and a great story breaks.

It happened at the Lincolnshire Echo yesterday, and Editor Mike Sassi was the one who answered the newsdesk telephone at 7.30am and sparked off a morning of frenzied activity for his staff.

Mr Sassi explained: “It was a tip-off saying General Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, was flying home from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.”

Mr Sassi sent a reporter and a photographer over to the airfield, near Lincoln, where they saw a blue plane, with a red Chilean star on its tail, waiting close to the runway.

“They thought the plane looked a bit out of place, and when they saw a red Chilean star on its tail they knew they were in the right place,” said Mr Sassi.

The Echo staff were at the RAF base just before 8am – almost two hours before any other journalists arrived.

“It gave us chance to get round the village and talk to everyone – like florists, shopkeepers – in the village,” Mr Sassi said.

“The whole story broke just right for us. We ran two pages in our first edition. The plane, with the general on board took off at 1.10pm. Our city final deadline is 2pm and we had time to get three pages of coverage together.”

At first, the Ministry of Defence would not confirm that the General was flying from Lincolnshire, but reporters were able to confirm that a Chilean aircraft which had been at Brize Norton for the past few weeks had taken off at 5am yesterday morning to go to another airfield, where arrangements were being made for General Pinochet to leave the country.

At 8am, Home Secretary Jack Straw confirmed his earlier judgement that he would not be extraditing the 84-year-old former leader to Spain as he was unfit to stand trial for human rights crimes.

At around 10am, a convoy of six police vehicles led by two motorbikes left the Wentworth estate in Surrey where General Pinochet has been staying and headed for RAF Waddington, where the Echo staffers had now been joined by TV cameramen and representatives from all the media.

“But it was great to get such a head start,” said Mr Sassi.

Do you have a story for us?
Ring the HoldTheFrontPage newsdesk on
01332 291111 x6022, or e-mail us now