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Exposing Britain’s Social Evils

Yvonne Roberts

Yvonne Roberts is the former Chief leader writer of The Observer, and the first political writer in residence at Sussex University. She is a Fellow of the Young Foundation. She has written several non-fiction books and novels, worked in current affairs television and has written for most of the broadsheets as a feature writer, interviewer, investigative journalist and columnist.

Her shortlisted pieces are:

Ed Thomas

Ed Thomas is a Special Correspondent at BBC News. His reporting inside Wandsworth Prison and the inequality exposed by Covid won Royal Television Society awards in 2017 and 2022. His work often focuses on communities and people struggling to be heard in modern Britain and his extended reports feature on the BBC News at Ten and BBC online. Over the past 12 months Ed, with picture correspondent Phill Edwards and Senior Producer Lou Martin spent months in Burnley to witness the impact of the pandemic on the poorest, their reporting was an unflinching look at the lives of those in the most deprived areas of England.

His shortlisted pieces are:

Jane Bradley & Amanda Taub: ‘Failings in Britain Leave Victims of Domestic Violence in Peril’

In March 2020, The New York Times began the first comprehensive investigation into the UK government’s flawed response to the surge in domestic abuse under lockdown, interviewing more than 50 government and police officials, experts, support workers and abuse survivors. The investigation revealed how ministers never prioritised domestic abuse in lockdown planning and failed to deliver promised support to vulnerable people. Through a powerful interactive visualisation, the feature memorialised all 26 women and girls killed by male partners or relatives during the first few months of lockdown and ensured they were remembered as more than a statistic. The team compiled the list of suspected domestic homicides using data from the Counting Dead Women Project and painstakingly verified each case through police and court records, press reports and interviews because the authorities do not centrally collate detailed information on domestic homicides.

Jane Bradley is the UK investigative correspondent for The New York Times. She is based in London where she focuses on uncovering abuses of power, social injustices and financial crime and corruption. Amanda Taub is a London-based news columnist and reporter for The New York Times, focusing on how gender, race and identity shape global events.

Edward Docx: ‘The Peak’

Edward Docx has written for most of the broadsheets and politico-cultural magazines. More recently, his journalism in the UK appears in The New Statesman and The Guardian. He writes on politics, culture and the arts. His fiction has been long listed for the Booker Prize.

Docx writes: “I wanted to do this when Corona first hit and nobody was yet writing much about the personal impact on NHS staff. I spoke to medical professionals who told me they were working long hours in frightening and life-threatening conditions. They felt betrayed or ignored by the Government’s response and failures. One said that they were being abandoned to face the virus in bin bags. But it was too political. Doctors worried about speaking out without permission in case it affected their careers. So everything had to go through the hospital PR’s – which meant NHS England – which meant the Government. Three times I set the piece up. And three times NHS England actively blocked it. I almost gave up. But then I conceived of a way of doing it. I decided to turn the situation into a strength – to write something a little different to traditional journalism. Rather than detailing shortages and statistics, I sought instead to move people, to help them experience the moment from inside the doctor’s perspective.”

Sophie Campbell: ‘Victim, Incompetent, or Mentally Ill? How Women Navigate the Oppressive Environment of the 21st Century Prison’

In 2018, Sophie Campbell managed to find a home and employment in the space of two weeks. “As a highly educated young woman,” she writes, “nothing about my story is remotely interesting until you learn I achieved all of this despite being one of thousands of women who every year are released from prison homeless.” In these pieces, Campbell has used her experiences as a former prisoner to hold the criminal justice system (cjs) to account, exposing its exploitation of female prison labour and the exposure of these women to systemic gender inequality across education and employment, showing how women from poor and racially marginalised communities are ‘being disappeared’ from mainstream society.

Sophie Campbell is an author and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Harvard Women’s Policy Journal and BERA. She is the winner of the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize and has been shortlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Bracken Bower Prize, the National Press Awards and the Amnesty Media Awards.

Richard Watson: ‘Hate Crime’

Richard Watson is a correspondent for BBC Newsnight, specialising in investigative work. At the start of his career, Richard covered the first Gulf war. After this he joined the BBC, working for The Money Programme, File on 4, Newsnight and Panorama. He has investigated organised crime, terrorism and miscarriages of justice.

Watson writes: “In December 2019 three black women were brutally attacked in London by a gang of white men. One of the women, a 37-year old from London, was kicked unconscious. The Metropolitan Police categorised the incident as a serious hate crime but failed to search for witnesses or recover CCTV and closed the case without even taking victim statements. She then approached me saying the police had racially profiled them, assuming it was a drugs deal gone wrong. I was reminded of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and a police investigation hampered by institutional racism. I wondered if similar themes would emerge: she was determined to hold the police to account, and a Newsnight film would give her a powerful voice. I began a detailed investigation. Nearly 30 years on from Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the final film shone a harsh light on police attitudes and exposed multiple failures. The Met referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, apologised to the women and reopened the case. After seeing the Newsnight report, a witness came forward who had filmed the attack on his mobile phone. One of the alleged attackers was arrested and has been charged with racially aggravated assault.”

Robert Wright: ‘Behind Closed Doors: Modern Slavery in Kensington’

Robert Wright has worked for the Financial Times since 1997 in many roles, including Budapest correspondent, transport correspondent and US industry correspondent. He is currently social affairs correspondent. He focuses on immigration and policing, seeking to show how policy is working and giving voice to those whom the system fails.

Wright writes: “I first heard of the work of Kalayaan and other groups helping escaped domestic workers in 2019 and spent months squeezing research on the subject around my day-to-day reporting. I was profoundly disturbed to hear the stories of women who’d slipped away from abusive employers during visits to the UK and felt appalled about their plight. I thought it important to highlight the huge barriers to justice that faced this group, who as immigrants with no roots in the UK are as vulnerable as any fleeing migrants could possibly be. From the moment I met some of the women in Kensington Gardens in July 2019, their courage, resourcefulness and tenacity profoundly moved me. However, the issue also had wider significance. I recognised that, if the government preferred to avoid making minor adjustments to the visa arrangements of this small, vulnerable group, there were real questions about its commitment to tackling modern slavery. I consequently went in some detail in the piece into why the Overseas Worker’s Visa is so fundamentally flawed.”

Annabel Deas: ‘Hope High’

Annabel Deas is an investigative journalist at BBC Radio 5 Live based in Salford. In 2018 she was awarded funding by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to travel to the US to research best practice for telling the stories of marginalised people.

Deas writes: “Hope High is a 7 part podcast documenting the year I spent with a community in Huddersfield where a number of children were being exploited by county lines drug dealers. I made the podcast after being frustrated by news reports describing children involved in drug or knife crime as being “in a gang”. Children are not ‘gangsters’ and I wanted to discover the real reason why some children were selling drugs and carrying weapons. I worked closely with a secondary school where I got to know a number of pupils who were being exploited by county lines gangs. I spent a long time in the community so I could witness events as they unfolded in real time and attempt to understand where the gaps were which led to a small number of children being excluded from school, shot at, selling drugs or in prison. As I was working with vulnerable young people, a podcast was the ideal way of providing anonymity as I could change names and voices. After its release thousands of people contacted the BBC and myself to express thanks for explaining why these issues take place.” (The project is now being taught at A Level and on degree courses and is used as a resource by police and social services across the UK.)

Simon Akam: ‘Britain and the Pandemic’

Simon Akam (@simonakam) is a contributing writer for 1843 magazine, sister magazine to The Economist. Alongside his work for The Economist, he writes for publications including GQ, Outside and Bloomberg Businessweek. He is the author of The Changing of the Guard: the British Army since 9/11 and co-hosts a writing podcast Always Take Notes.

In his features for 1843 Magazine, Simon Akam has tackled complex stories about Britain’s handling of the pandemic, ranging from the NHS’s battle against the virus, to contact-tracers in Yorkshire. The inside story of Britain’s fight against covid-19 is the result of three months following doctors, nurses and paramedics in London as they fought the most devastating pandemic for a century. This is the untold story of what it felt like to be on the front-line: the chaos, the fear, even the exhilaration of health-care workers as they struggled to manage this most unpredictable disease. In ‘On the hunt with Yorkshire’s virus-detectives’, Simon travelled to northern England to embed with a team of local coronavirus contact-tracers. As the UK’s national system buckled under the resurgence of coronavirus, Simon investigated the system’s shortcomings, and explored whether local track-and-trace schemes offered a fix.

Sirin Kale: ‘Lost to the Virus’

Kale Writes: “Lost to the Virus was a series of seven long-form articles that were published between August and September 2020. Each piece was a profile of an individual who died in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. My intention was to humanise the UK’s terrible death toll, to which the public was becoming increasingly desensitised, by spotlighting the people behind the statistics. I wanted to profile ordinary people with the depth, care, and compassion they deserved – to show that the people who “life faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs”, to quote George Eliot, are as deserving of our attention as the most-eulogised of world leaders. I also wanted to show the governmental and institutional failures that may have contributed to their deaths, such as the failure to cancel mass events, the PPE crisis in our hospitals, how decades of privatisation contributed to the carnage in care homes, the failings of NHS 111, why the mortality rate amongst transport workers was so high, and how institutional racism contributed to the death of Belly Mujinga.”

Sirin Kale is a features writer based in London, writing principally for the Guardian newspaper. She was previously an editor at the youth media publication VICE, where she won awards for her investigations into rape, stalking, and domestic violence. During the pandemic she has been profiling the lives lost to Covid-19 for the Guardian’s long-form series Lost to the Virus. She has also written for a range of other publications and is a frequent contributor to national broadcast and radio.


Jennifer Williams: ‘The North in a Time of Covid’

“The story of how poor policy helped coronavirus rip through some of England’s poorest Northern communities did not begin with the discovery of Covid-19. Its prologue was written during decades of central failures to properly serve, fund or listen to those places. From Manchester we predicted the consequences even as policies were landing, heavily, from hundreds of miles away: from the perversity of hollow, monolithic central systems to the hoarding of vital information within them and the prioritising of rhetoric over experience. We were the first to query local lockdown policies that failed to define either ‘local’ or ‘lockdown’. Through a long Covid summer, we tried to explain how life in Greater Manchester was meant to be lived, as Parliament lapsed into recess, ministers changed our rules day by day and the virus bubbled endemically in our poorest populations, outside of the national spotlight. Autumn’s showdown may have shocked government but it didn’t surprise us. A year on, the North West has recorded the highest death rates in the country. But behind those numbers sit older, deeper inequality and neglect that will take far longer to address than Covid-19 itself.”


Lewis Goodall: ‘The Exams Fiasco’

Lewis Goodall is Policy Editor for BBC Newsnight where he covers politics, policy, government and economics across the UK and beyond. Previously he was Political Correspondent for Sky News. His book on the recent history of the Labour Party Left for Dead was published in 2018.

Goodall writes: “From mid 2020, it was obvious to me the proposed system to replace exams could be a catastrophe; quite literally, injustice could be said to have been built into its operation. It was a mechanical system allocating preferment not on the basis of merit or desert but the academic history of an institution. As results season came I began to hear stories of students from poor areas, predicted top grades, being downgraded. I reported on Twitter what I was hearing (these threads received millions of impressions). Soon I was inundated with cases. It became clear to me this injustice was ubiquitous and affecting England’s working class student most. Over the next weeks, online and on television, I explained to the public (and politicians) why the system was inherently unjust and the chaos it created, whilst telling a wider story about an increasing tyranny of apparently neutral data algorithms in the operation of modern policymaking.”

Mail Investigation Team (Tom Kelly, Susie Coen and Sophie Borland): ‘Exposing the Care Homes Catastrophe’

Tom Kelly is the Daily Mail’s Investigations Editor, Susie Coen is the Assistant Investigations Editor and Sophie Borland is the Health Editor.

“In a string of investigations, we revealed the devastating scale of COVID-19 in care homes – and the government failings that had enabled it to thrive. We exposed how the dire shortages of PPE meant carers were too terrified to work, how major chains ravaged by the disease had been denied tests – despite government claims these had started – and how care homes were being forced to play ‘Russian roulette’ with helpless residents’ lives after the Government ordered them to accept hospital patients with suspected coronavirus. Early in the outbreak we discovered that industry experts calculated the ‘hidden epidemic’ of the virus in care homes had already claimed 4,000 lives, even as government figures said the figure was just 217. Piers Morgan used our splash to confront Care Minister Helen Whately live on TV about the scandal. Our exposes had an immediate impact. Matt Hancock pledged all care home residents and patients released into them from hospitals would be tested if they showed symptoms and launched a new supply network to help get PPE to care home staff. We later revealed how care homes were were still waiting 15 days for the test, putting residents at new risk.”



Haroon Siddique: ‘How and Why Black Britons Suffer Unequal Outcomes at the Hands of the Police’

Haroon Siddique is a senior reporter at the Guardian, where he has worked since 2007. Before joining the Guardian, he worked at the Ham&High series of local papers in north London, where he began his journalistic in 2004.

Siddique writes: “Across a series of stories, my intention was to highlight the negative outcomes of black people at the hands of the Met police, but also the reasons for it, at a time when it was one of the key issues driving Black Lives Matter protests. My first submission made use of innovative interactive modelling to call into doubt the findings of the police watchdog (IOPC) inquiry – and inquest – into the death of Mark Duggan. The police shooting of Duggan is one of the most contentious cases of recent years – it triggered riots and was highlighted by BLM protesters last year. The innovative spatial reconstruction tools invited the reader to examine the shooting from different perspectives to enable them to fully understand the doubts which have been cast on the official version of events. In showing how the Met has been using software, which its own creator has said can aid racial profiling, the second article in my submission sought to examine how discrimination may have become embedded in the force. Finally, my third article showed how this criminalisation of black people can mentally scar them and affect their perception of police, which then gets passed down from generation to generation.”


Emma Youle: ‘This is Britain’s Housing System in 2020: A Two-Part Investigation’

For a year, Emma Youle carried out interviews with two families living in temporary homeless housing for her special two-part investigation for HuffPost UK. Her reporting focuses on the experience of living in one room, with access to shared kitchens and bathrooms. Because these families are housed, and not in public view like rough sleepers, conditions in this type of homeless accommodation are often hidden. The reporting spotlights the severe overcrowding they face and the toll it takes on mental health. Their stories are also documented through the pandemic, to track its impact on some of the UK’s most vulnerable households. In the second part of the investigation, Emma explored the wider housing crisis and analysed government data to reveal how it deepened sharply in the early months of the pandemic.

Emma Youle is an award-winning investigative journalist who worked for regional newspapers before joining HuffPost UK as special correspondent. She has covered stories including the contaminated blood scandal, the housing crisis, historic child abuse, and won the Private Eye Paul Foot Award 2017 for her reporting exposing conditions inside homeless hostels.

Tam Hussein: ‘Modern Slavery’

Modern slavery often goes unnoticed in British society. Despite its prevalence, public understanding and discussion remains extremely limited. Tam Hussein’s stories have helped to shed light on this social evil both through its emotional force, but also because of the impact it has had on the public. “Momodou’s story had a profound impact on me,” he writes, “I grew up in similar circumstances as Momodou except that I had people who showed me how to get out while Momodou does not. It was poverty and filial piety that resulted in his enslavement by drug gangs, not a broken moral compass. There are thousands like him in the UK and requires a herculean effort to rehabilitate just one such individual. The experience led me to explore modern slavery in the sex trade after a chance encounter with a pimp. Over six months I investigated the networks going undercover showing how gangs peddled sex slaves and drugs for the predatory appetites of the upper echelons of British society.” Hussein led and investigated the resulting ITV News story and his work was cited by the All Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, which in turn led to demands for the Home Secretary to meet and discuss the ending of modern slavery in the UK.

Tam Hussein is an award-winning investigative journalist and writer focusing on the MENA region covering jihadist networks, conflict and terrorism, refugees, human trafficking and other topics. He has spent several years in the MENA region and speaks several languages holding an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies.

Harriet Grant & Chris Michael

Segregated Playgrounds exposed how a London housing development that had built a wall in its communal playground, in order to segregate the children of richer and poorer families, set a series of dominoes falling. Political leaders from across the spectrum joined in expressing their outrage and disgust at this social injustice, forcing the developer, Henley Homes, to back down and remove the wall. The follow-up reporting soon revealed dozens of other segregated playgrounds across the UK, and generated a huge response from readers, who contacted us in the hundreds with tips and firsthand experiences. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, quickly declared a ban on segregated play areas; then the Conservative housing minister, James Brokenshire, vowed to end the practice nationwide.

Too poor to play: children in social housing blocked from communal playground

More segregated playgrounds revealed: ‘We just play in the car park’

Minister vows to end segregated play areas in all new housing in England

Inna Lazareva

As a result of her investigation into the harmful practice of breast ironing, Inna became the first journalist to expose concrete evidence that the African ritualistic ‘tradition’ which involves the physical mutilation of pubescent girls also takes place unhindered on UK soil. Medical experts and victims regard it as a form of child abuse which could lead to physical and psychological scars, infections, inability to breastfeed, deformities and breast cancer. The UN describes it as one of five global underreported crimes relating to gender-based violence. The investigation led to more victims speaking out, triggered debates in parliament, and the Crown Prosecution Service changing its legal guidelines, with perpetrators now facing up to 10 years in prison.

Revealed: ‘dozens’ of girls subjected to breast-ironing in UK 

Breast-ironing: ‘the whole community needs an education’

Breast-ironing is abuse and could lead to prison term, says CPS