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Journalist hits out at sacking after 32 days in BBC local democracy post

Peter LilleyA journalist sacked 32 days after being appointed under the BBC-funded local democracy scheme has claimed he was forced out after a local council objected to his appointment.

Peter Lilley was appointed last month as a local democracy reporter working for the Harrogate Advertiser and BBC, but claims he has now had his contract terminated after the newspaper received a formal complaint from Harrogate Borough Council objecting to his appointment.

Peter, a former editor of the Ripon Gazette who had worked as a freelance in recent years after a career in broadcast journalism, has written to Matthew Barraclough, the BBC’s head of local news partnerships, over his alleged treatment.

He says he is “baffled” as to why he was offered the role and has claimed he was not “fully-supported” by Johnston Press Yorkshire group weeklies editor Jean MacQuarrie, to whom he reported.

In his letter to Matthew, Peter said: “I feel I’ve been very shabbily treated.”

Peter, pictured, claims he was told by Jean on the third day of his employment that his position had “probably become untenable” following a formal complaint from the leader of Harrogate Council, which allegedly strongly objected to his appointment.

Peter, who began his career at the Advertiser in 1977, told HTFP: “I couldn’t believe my ears. I was being told my job was probably untenable because the leader of the local council didn’t approve of it.

“I didn’t apply for the role of local democracy reporter on a whim. I thought about it very carefully, well aware it wouldn’t be popular with everyone as I had previously ruffled feathers at Harrogate Council by persistently pursuing a number of issues through Public Questions and Freedom of Information requests.

“But I thought that’s exactly what the Local Democracy Reporting Service was supposed to be all about; holding councils and other democratic institutions to account.

“Yet I now find myself ousted for trying to pursue that agenda. It doesn’t make sense; and I certainly don’t think I was given a fair chance.”

Peter, whose previous clashes with the council had come in his capacity as a private resident, has also hit out in a series of Twitter posts, claiming Johnston Press had decided he was “far too problematic”.

HTFP understands Peter was still in his probationary period when the decision was made to terminate his two-year contract.

A JP spokesman told HTFP: “It is not appropriate to comment on individuals’ employment status. The Harrogate Local Democracy Reporter role is very important to JP, and we will continue to fulfill our contract.”

Under the scheme, local democracy reporters are employed by regional press groups, with their posts funded by the BBC.

A BBC spokesman said: “The local democracy reporters are employed by contract holders. We can’t comment on third party staffing issues.”

Harrogate Borough Council has declined to comment.

11 comments

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  • July 10, 2018 at 9:00 am
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    The mystery isnt really his sacking, but why he was ever appointed in the first place. Johnston Press itself has run stories about his previous campaigns against the local council, and his Twitter feed is essentially trolling councillors and senior staff – not to mention regional editors and JP managers until he started working for them. Even since beginning the job, he’s been critical of the paper for editing his work. Sacking was honestly inevitable.

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  • July 10, 2018 at 9:48 am
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    From what I’ve seen of the local democracy service, the majority of what is churned out is press releases anyway. Very little holding to account from what I’ve seen so far.

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  • July 10, 2018 at 10:18 am
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    He openly criticised the editor’s decision to amend his story on Twitter.

    What did he expect?

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  • July 10, 2018 at 11:18 am
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    Peter Lilley appears to have sacked for asking questions the local council (and, shamefully, the Harrogate Advertiser) didn’t like. What an indictment of modern regional journalism – and also the BBC local democracy scheme. Why are licence payers funding this farce?

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  • July 10, 2018 at 12:09 pm
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    Sounds like he was one of the only Local Democracy Reporters actually doing the job he was contracted to do, rather than being used as a general dogsbody, copying & pasting press releases and uploading mindless ‘breaking’ stories about minor car accidents

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  • July 10, 2018 at 12:24 pm
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    “The Local Democracy Reporter role is very important to JP” – I bet it is as it’s free!

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  • July 10, 2018 at 2:36 pm
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    I wonder how much advertising the local council does with the Harrogate Advertising.

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  • July 11, 2018 at 4:54 pm
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    Guess the question to be asked is how much was he challenged during the interview process about how he planned to approach the job, his past dealings with the council, how he would react to his stories being edited etc. Given what has happened since (and also taking into account his journalistic background) it would seem pretty poor if some fairly obvious questions were not posed in the interview stage.

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  • July 12, 2018 at 8:02 am
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    As a title receiving LDRS copy – there’s been no holding to account – just minutes of meetings.

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  • July 12, 2018 at 9:23 am
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    Our LDR put out two stories yesterday. Both were two-day-old council press releases we’d already followed up.

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  • July 12, 2018 at 11:45 am
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    For balance, the copy we receive via the LDR scheme is excellent and the reporter is making a suitable nuisance of himself at our local authorities.

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