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Editor and reporter leave weekly after transgender column controversy

Bob BoundsAn editor and reporter have left a weekly newspaper after being suspended following the publication of a controversial column on transgender issues.

HTFP reported last month how Kentish Gazette editor Bob Bounds, left, and reporter Alex Claridge were suspended from duties pending an investigation by parent company the KM Group into the column, which ran earlier in October.

The Gazette apologised for the piece, written by Alex under the pseudonym ‘Harry Bell’, which mentioned a “very obvious transperson” living in Canterbury and described as a “bloke with a feminine haircut who wears women’s clothing”.

Harry added he had showed a picture of the person to five women, who had “correctly” said they were looking at a photograph of a man.

The column had also mentioned the case of convict Jessica Winfield, who underwent gender reassignment surgery while in prison after being sentenced in 1995 for a double rape while living as a man named Martin Ponting.

Winfield was reassigned to a women’s prison after the surgery, but in September The Sun reported she had been segregated from the main prison population for making inappropriate advances on other female prisoners, although a report in The Independent has disputed the reasoning for her segregation.

A statement apologising for the column’s publication appeared in the 12 October edition of the Gazette, while its letters page was given over to comments criticising the piece.

The statement read: “The Gazette has come in for heavy criticism over the publication of last week’s Harry Bell column, which included an item about transgender issues.

“When you get things wrong, the best course of action is to hold your hands up and say sorry. Last week’s column did get it wrong – badly wrong. We feel it is appropriate to dedicate our letters pages to the many messages we have had criticising the comments contained in the article.

“Harry Bell has never purported to be the Voice of the Gazette, nor to represent the views of anyone other than the author. However, we must take responsibility for providing the platform for such opinions to be aired.

“Over the course of its long history, the Gazette has prided itself on fighting for the community it serves. That includes all those who help make the Canterbury area such a diverse and wonderful place to live. Over the coming weeks we will be attempting to rebuild links with those upset by last week’s column and will ensure we learn from our mistake.”

Bob took over the Gazette’s editorship in February following the departure of Leo Whitlock, and was also responsible for the Whitstable Gazette, Herne Bay Gazette, Faversham News, Thanet Extra and East Kent Mercury.

Prior to that, he edited the Medway Messenger and Gravesend & Dartford Messenger.

KM Group has declined to comment further on Bob’s and Alex’s departure.


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  • November 13, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Me thinks there is more to their departure than the alleged article. If it was just the article that caused their departure then something is wrong if a paper can’t be controversial.

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  • November 13, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Wordsmith: To suggest there is something more to it does a disservice to the two people who have been disgracefully dumped.
    It may have been politically incorrect and, in truth, ill-judged but the column expressed an opinion.
    It got a reaction and there was an apology – but it seems crucifixion was already a nailed on conclusion before any disciplinary procedure was even underway.
    To cast aside two people’s careers for one error of judgment is shameful.

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  • November 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    Apologies Regional if you misunderstood or misinterpreted my comment. I also meant – but obviously failed – to suggest they had been disgracefully dumped in order to appease the critics. If they had overstepped the mark – and I have no proof one way or the other – then they should have been reprimanded internally and allowed to get on with their jobs. There is far too much in the way of public executions of staff to appease the critics who should have been told in no uncertain terms that a key role in newspapers is to be prepared to say/write/publish items that may not please them but is all part of democracy. To cast aside the two journalists in such a manner is appalling.

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  • November 13, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Agree with the previous comments, seems wrong that they have ended up out of work over this.

    Also have my doubts that the departure of these two individuals (who most readers have probably never encountered) will in any way restore the newspaper’s popularity or reputation, if that is what management are concerned about following the publication of the controversial column.

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  • November 14, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Can’t comment on the circumstances because I don’t know them but Bob Bounds had responsibility for Kentish Gazette; Whitstable Gazette, Herne Bay Gazette, Faversham News, Thanet Extra and East Kent Mercury. The column was ill-judged but so was asking one person to oversee six newspapers

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  • November 14, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    If they were sacked – which presumably is the true meaning behind the euphemistic “have left” – why on earth not say so?

    Indeed, such a misguided, grossly over-reacting, not-understanding-the-concept-of-opinion-columns managerial move – exacerbated by KM Group’s refusal to comment – would constitute a main nub of the story, alongside the perturbing anti-free-speech, anti-press-freedom issues raised.

    Even if KM Group will not officially discuss the matter, despite supposedly being in the communications business, surely off-the-record quotes could be obtained from staff or the apparently axed duo themselves.

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  • November 14, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Chris Maguire. Good point. Group editors can’t do the editing job properly however hard they try as they are spread too thinly.
    Every major newspaper group has proved it in recent years.

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  • November 14, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    They were unlucky in that present-day Canterbury, with its ever-expanding university, is under the yoke of the liberal elite. The published complaints (mostly sent by email) bore the hallmarks of a campaign and the paper’s craven reaction was apparent from the two pages it devoted to letters all saying much the same thing. Doubtless any letters of support would have been quickly binned.

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  • November 14, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I wonder how much the local councillor who has run a long running campaign against the Gazette and Alex Claridge in particular had to do with this.

    Both these journalists are a very sad loss from a rapidly declining newspaper.

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  • November 14, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Seems wrong for them to have to leave when a warning would have done. Perhaps they didn’t react well when questioned. It was a rather whiffy thing to write and instead better to get stuck into a really meaty and topical local issue. There must be other things to comment on in newsy Canterbury. Clumsy management too?

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  • November 14, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Pretty sure a slap on the wrists and moving on would have been enough to settle this matter.

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  • November 15, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    If every bit of cack-handed, ill-considered journalism cost two people their jobs the industry would have collapsed in 1937.
    This looks like one for the employment lawyers.

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