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Investigative reporter hired to probe freeport to leave regional daily

Leigh JonesAn investigative journalist hired by a regional daily to probe potential corruption following a spat with local Tories is leaving the title.

Leigh Jones, pictured, was taken on by the Yorkshire Post last May with a brief to examine environmental and political issues relating to the Teesside Freeport.

It followed what Post editor James Mitchinson described at the time as the “hysterical” reaction of some local Tories to the paper’s previous coverage of the patch.

Leigh has since filed more than 80 stories about the Tees Valley, its elected mayor Ben Houchen and the freeport, but his 12-month contract is shortly coming to an end and he is now looking for work.

Posting on X, Leigh wrote:  “I’m regretfully in a position that all parties involved tried to avoid, but if anyone wants a journalist who has expertise in Teesside and regional politics, as well as very broad reporting experience let me know.

“Over the last 12 months at The Yorkshire Post my area of expertise has been TVCA, Ben Houchen, Teesworks etc. I’ve covered the story extensively.

“In the last 12 months I’ve filed more than 80 stories about Teesworks, Ben Houchen and Teesside, which is pretty good going, all things considered.”

Prior to joining the Post, Leigh worked for Newsquest titles The National Wales and the Northern Echo, leaving the latter in April 2023.

He was initially taken on after Mayor Houchen and Tory MP Simon Clarke publicly criticised James for following up a story tip about dead sea creatures washing up on the coast.

Mr Clarke, a Cabinet minister under Boris Johnson, accused James of “deeply irresponsible journalism” before the Post had even published anything about the issue, while Mr Houchen further accused the Leeds-based daily of reporting “guff”.

In a message to readers at the time, James wrote:  “Without their fascinating overreactions to the flimsiest – so far – of questions, I wouldn’t have hired Leigh Jones who will join the Yorkshire Post in the coming days, charged by me with holding feet to the fire of anyone with their fingers in Teesworks pies.”

James has declined to comment further on Leigh’s departure.