I am an investigative journalist with an emphasis on data journalism, undercover secret filming work and good old fashioned digging. I love a leaked document or database – there are few feelings like knowing you are on to a corker of a story and when it’s broadcast there’ll be a big fallout. My work has featured on BBC programmes including Panorama, Newsnight, File on 4 and the national News at Six. Here you can find some of the stories I’m most happy with from the last few years. I am currently in the Special Investigations team at Global Witness, working to expose grand corruption, environmental destruction and human rights abuses in some of the world’s most troubled countries. In the mix with all the hard news are features on history and travel I’ve written too and a documentary about voodoo sorcery I presented on the BBC World Service.
When a £27 million investment scheme that supposedly made huge profits through a clever gambling loophole went bust, I began to investigate. It was promoted by the Premiership footballer Steve Claridge (who denied all wrongdoing). Careful data journalism showed the claimed rates of return could not be possible. Here’s my report on Radio 4.
I exposed the cosmetics shops willing to deal in illegal skin whitening cream, containing a banned chemical that can damage the liver and nervous system. Staff were placing products on shelves they knew to contain the active ingredient, despite it not being listed on the ingredients. That means unwilling customers who thought they could trust something displayed openly were put at risk. Watch the film for my maiden doorstep!
Our investigation exposed the self-styled ‘Reverend’ who believes you can cure everything from aids to Alzheimer’s by making patients swallow doses of bleach – and the US cult-style ‘church of healing’ from which he takes inspiration. I have encountered some wacky characters during my time as a journalist, but this lot took the biscuit. Mind-boggling stuff.
Had your mobile phone nicked in London? These are the guys who enable a crime that can shatter peoples’ confidence and feelings of security. We went undercover to expose a black market of shops willing to deal in the stolen devices. The Metropolitan Police subsequently raided the businesses we caught.
Another one of the most shocking investigations I have ever worked on: the London estate agents who refused black tenants because of the colour of their skin. This exposé was all over Fleet Street and was subsequently named the best investigation in Europe at the 2014 Circom Awards. Like so many of the stories I have worked on, the lion’s share of credit must go to my enormously talented and determined colleague, Guy Lynn. He is one of the best investigative reporters working in the UK today.
After the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, I found a banned Islamic scholar’s texts on offer to the public… at Woolwich Public Library. Dr Zakir Naik was barred from the UK in 2010 by the Home Secretary. One chapter was entitled: “The inequality of male and female witnesses.”
In it Dr Naik argued a male testimony is worth that of two females in financial matters. The story was reported prominently in the Daily Telegraph.
How Newham Council spent a whopping £111m on its new headquarters… including £1,800 on individual, designer light fittings. This in what is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK. The exclusive was followed up on the front page of the Metro and in the Sunday Times. Newham Council insists to this day that its headquarters – which cost a full third as much Arsenal’s world famous Emirates Stadium – actually saves taxpayers money.
Back in 2011, my friend Jafar Habib, from Ghana, told me something amazing. At the annual festival of voodoo in nearby Benin, he saw a voodoo sorcerer cut off a woman’s head and reattach it… whereupon she came back to life. Six years on, I returned with him to Benin, seeking out the most powerful sorcerers in the land to bear witness to their magic and confront Jafar’s own beliefs and preconceptions about voodoo. This radio documentary I presented for the BBC World Service is the result. Warning: disturbing content may upset some people.
One of my involvements in the case of the corrupt Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. We revealed claims that employees of his council were threatened with the sack if they did not each illegally obtain 100 votes for the disgraced politician. I was in the High Court to see him face justice – sheer courtroom drama.
This may just be the single most astounding story I’ve ever worked on. Corrupt Flying Squad officers plotted to kidnap the partner of a cash van driver and hold her to ransom. The plot was foiled by Met anti-corruption police – but neither of the intended victims was told. Details of the case were then revealed in a cache of police intelligence reports the Met thought they’d shredded, but were obtained by my colleague Glen Campbell, an old school investigative reporter and expert on police corruption. I tracked them down nearly twenty years later – the female victim now living in the Gambia – and told them what had happened.
What is the life of an illegal labourer in London really like? Before Romanians got the right to work in the UK, we penetrated a murky and dangerous world to highlight the slave labour wages and appalling conditions endured by desperate workers. A difficult investigation in which potential risks to our undercover operatives were at the forefront of our minds.
Our undercover investigation into dodgy pharmacists revealed no less than nine independent pharmacies willing to selling powerful drugs including opiates and Valium over the counter for cash. SFollowed up by the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard.
Update: Three years on, and nine of the pharmacists we exposed have been banned from practise. The General Pharmaceutical Council used our investigation to appeal for greater powers from the government, and as a result expects to be able to carry out its own covert surveillance of rogue pharmacists. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-35720655
One of a series of stories I worked on with Kurt Barling following the entirely avoidable fire at Lakanal House tower block in Southwark, which killed six. Fashion designer Catherine Hickman died after being told to stay in her flat by firefighters. Those that ignored the advice lived. She was found with her phone in her hand. An awful tragedy.
One of the stories I am proudest of, and the scoop that set Kurt and I off on a several-year long exposure of the shocking fire safety in London’s social housing stock. Following a paper trail of old reports and documents, I discovered Southwark Council knew Lakanal House was a fire hazard – but did nothing to make it safe. Among the lives lost there were one father’s entire family. His wife, son and daughter all perished.
Here Mr Barling and I revealed that more than 300 high rises in London had not even been checked for fire safety by the authorities. This precipitated every tower block in London that had not been risk assessed rapidly having one done. It is not out of the realms of possibility that this story saved lives.
We exposed the scam colleges willing to sit exams for students for cash, enabling them to become bouncers and bodyguards without a bit of training. A fraudulent license obtained by our researcher was used to obtain an offer of work at a power station and an interview to guard Canary Wharf. This piece made the national News at Six on BBC1, Radio 4, Five Live and the Daily Telegraph.
The hand in the photograph belongs to the Porsche-driving boss of a training centre in west London. He is reading answers from a big screen to labourers so they can cheat a test in building safety, thus becoming licensed to work on any site in the country. Construction is the UK’s most deadly industry – during the Afghan war more of our builders were killed than British soldiers. This was one of several firms we busted. The investigation ran as a 13 minute film on Newsnight and as a result of our enquiries 6,000 labourers have been forced to resit fraudulent exams. As the film went to air, the editor of Newsnight tweeted: “If Carlsberg did bad guys they would be this fake safety qualification guy.” Why was he flagrantly putting lives at risk in this way? To paraphrase Fargo: for a little bit of money.
Journalists who did far more than I to expose the Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman include: Andrew Gilligan, John Ware, Ted Jeory. But here is another of my minor additions to a formidable body of investigative reportage. Witnesses in the court case that eventually saw him overthrown were allegedly intimidated – including purported threats to their families in Bangladesh.
As parking stories go, this was a jolly good one. A London council illegally set its traffic wardens minimum quotas of parking tickets to achieve, with predictable results. Another of those glorious ‘leaked document’ stories I am so fond of. I remember rushing to get this to air before flying to Ethiopia to research Foretold by Thunder…
Patients at an east London hospital were left with life-changing injuries due to a lack of resources, we revealed in 2011. Some five surgeons resigned in protest about the problems at the hospital. Big cap-doffing to BBC London’s doughty Political Correspondent Karl Mercer for his digging on this one.