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Reporter forced to flee home after death threat online

Amy FentonA journalist was forced to flee her home on police advice due to a death threat online – while a gang of men also abused her colleagues at a regional daily’s office in a separate incident.

Amy Fenton, Newsquest’s chief reporter in South Cumbria, has confirmed she was moved into police protection over the weekend after “increasing levels of abuse, intimidation and threats” were issued against her and other colleagues at daily title The Mail.

The threats came after serious allegations of sexual and physical abuse were made against a local businessmen on social media, with some readers wrongly claiming there was a “conspiracy between the press and the police to cover up crimes” amid protests being held in Barrow-in-Furness over an alleged grooming gang operation.

Police in the town responded to the allegation by confirming a year-long investigation had found “no evidence” of a gang of men exploiting young women in Barrow.

A woman, 19, has been arrested and charged with seven counts of perverting the course of justice and has appeared at South Cumbria Magistrates Court.

A 30-year-old man, from Barrow, has also been arrested on suspicion of threats to kill following an incident in the early hours of 20 May.

Amy took to Twitter on Monday to share an example of the abuse she had received, in which a reader wrote: “Slit Amy Fenton’s throat while saying Islamic prayers for her.”

Amy wrote: “I’ve done what any self-respecting reporter would do. But I will not tolerate anyone threatening my daughter. I’m now under police protection.

“People who have threatened me need to know – this is not acceptable. It is illegal.”

Newsquest Cumbria regional group editor Vanessa Sims had previously condemned the threats in an editorial, published on Saturday.

She wrote: “Often The Mail team knows much more than what we are legally allowed to publish but we are duty bound to follow rules so not to prejudice ongoing police investigations or court cases.

“We follow these rules to ensure no case gets thrown out of court because of details printed in the local press. Yes this can be frustrating. Never more so than when the community we work tirelessly to represent turn upon us.

“The increasing levels of abuse, intimidation and threats the team at The Mail have received are completely unacceptable. We are simply doing our jobs. We have no control over who the Crown Prosecution Service charge, the focus of an investigation or the outcome of any cases.

“We are aware of numerous social media posts sharing text message evidence and would urge those in possession to share them with detectives. It is the police who investigate crime, gather evidence and present that to the courts.

“All The Mail and its reporters can do is report the different stages of that investigation. And yes that might not always be palatable to the community. But there is never an excuse for a gang of 12 men to gathering outside The Mail offices shouting intimidating slurs and demands upon my reporters.”

Vanessa went on to note The Mail would “take legal action against those who persist”.

She added: “Over the last 24 hours there has been numerous comments about how The Mail should close – but without the paper the community we work so hard to represent would be much worse off.

“Gone would be the days of celebrating and championing the work of the community, NHS workers or keyworkers, detailed access court or inquest reports would cease, investigations such as the Morecambe Bay baby scandal or the urology scandal would go unexposed, and the thousands of people who turned to us for trusted news and details of how the coronavirus pandemic was effecting Barrow would have nowhere to turn.

“Despite the horrific abuse levied at the team we will continue to be professional, committed and dedicated to serving South Cumbria.”

HTFP reported in February how a man previously convicted of threatening to blow up a hospital has been jailed for 20 weeks after a rape threat against Amy, who had previously covered his case.

Speaking to HTFP, Vanessa said: “The barrage of abuse we have received for simply doing our jobs has been absolutely abhorrent. One of our reporters was even forced to flee her home over the weekend on police advice as the messages became more menacing and personal.

“As a newspaper we are bound by the law and at every step we have acted responsibly and ethically to ensure we are providing our readers with trusted news.

“As a team we pride ourselves on reporting the issues that matter the most to our readers and no matter how much abuse we receive we will not be intimidated or bullied into publishing fake news.”

The National Union of Journalists has condemned the threats.

Chris Morley, NUJ northern regional organiser, said: “Amy is a union member and a journalist working for a local newspaper. She has been following basic journalistic standards on reporting allegations and court proceedings.

“The local newspaper she works for is an essential part of the local community.

“It is not expected that everyone should agree with all opinions or news reports but what is expected is that journalists’ safety, well-being and the life of their family should never be threatened.”

A Cumbria Police spokeswoman said: “Cumbria Police can confirm that they have currently eight crimes recorded in relation to threats towards a 35-year-old woman in the Barrow area.

“We currently have high visibility patrols in the Barrow area and anyone who has received threats will be included in the local patrol plans.”