A regional daily’s 27-year fight for justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster was hailed as the “best of journalism” as it received a special industry award.
The Liverpool Echo earned a standing ovation at Friday’s Regional Press Awards at it was presented with a special chairman’s award by Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough families’ support group.
Mr Hicks, whose two teenage daughters died in the 1989 disaster, said: “I’ve seen the very worst of journalism and I’ve seen the very best of journalism. This is the very best.”
The special award, which followed last month’s inquest verdict of unlawful killing, recognised work done under four different editors of the Echo since 1989 – Chris Oakley, John Griffith, Mark Dickinson and, since 2005, Ali Machray.
Mr Hicks also singled out the paper’s Hillsborough reporter Eleanor Barlow, who attended almost every day of the inquest, for special mention.
“Eleanor was at the inquests more days than I was. It’s a very well-deserved award,” he said.
Chairman of the judges and former Manchester Evening News editor Paul Horrocks said the award was in recognition of a paper that never wavered and never tired. “It casts aside the idea that regional newspapers do not invest in their communities,” he said.
“Years of unswerving reporting and campaigning led by no less than four editors has championed an injustice and held the hands of the friends and families of 96 innocent people who died needlessly and shamefully.”
Receiving the award, Ali Machray said: “This award came as a total surprise to myself and everyone at the Echo, and I humbly accept it on behalf of a countless number of hugely-talented, dedicated and determined journalists, including many former members of staff, who have reported on Hillsborough since 1989.
“It is the story that has defined Liverpool and Merseyside news coverage for the last 27 years – and the story of Hillsborough is, as we all know, by no means over yet. And I want to assure all the families, survivors, campaigners and each and every one of our readers that we will continue covering the story of Hillsborough to the best of our ability.
“We will always take our inspiration and lead from the those who lost their loved ones at Hillsborough. They have, we know, been magnificent ambassadors – not only for our city, but for truth and justice.
“It was an honour to receive this award – and an honour to receive it from Trevor Hicks.”
He added: “Eleanor has, quite rightly, received widespread praise for her role in covering the inquests – online and in print – and I again wish to praise her for the enormous skill and professionalism she has shown during the last two years.
“Most of all she has demonstrated the ability to win trust and respect through honest and accurate reporting. She has done the Echo proud – and she has done the families proud.”