I am an investigative reporter specialising in undercover journalism, focused on complex international corruption and environmental crime. Whilst at the BBC my work featured on programmes such as Panorama, Newsnight, File on 4 and the national News at Six, and I’ve written for publications including the New Statesman and the Mail on Sunday. I currently head up the Forests Investigations team at the international NGO Global Witness, which comprises of six investigative reporters dedicated to exposing the destruction of the world’s most important rainforests in Brazil, the Congo Basin and Papua New Guinea. We take on the rapacious agribusinesses that chop down these precious forests to raise cattle or grow palm oil – often bribing politicians and throwing indigenous people off their land – and the iconic western banks and investment funds system that finance these destructive firms, enabling their behaviour. Here you can find a selection of my stories and features from the last few years. In the mix with all the hard news are a few bits and pieces on history and travel… and a documentary about voodoo sorcery in Benin I presented on the BBC World Service.
The burning of the Brazilian Amazon in 2019 to make way for cattle farms shocked the world. But we revealed six of the world’s worst agribusinesses linked to widespread deforestation were financed by household name banks and investors such as Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. In total more than 300 institutions backed the firms to the tune of $44bn.
Back in 2011, a Ghanaian friend told me something amazing. At the annual festival of voodoo in 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. This documentary I presented for the BBC World Service is the result.
A long read for the New Statesman magazine, in which I explain what mammoth Brazil’s Car Wash corruption scandal was, how it worked, and illustrate its devastating impact on the Brazilian people. Our statistical analysis suggests the lost taxes would have paid for three million nurses or a years education for 17 million children.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We revealed how the world’s top three commodity traders, Glencore, Trafigura and Vitol, are all implicated in Brazil’s Car Wash scandal, one of the biggest corruption cases of all time. Few have heard of these vast, shadowy companies, but their combined turnover is greater than the GDP of Austria. We allege that officials at Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras were bribed to fix oil prices at below the market rate… with senior executives at Vitol and even Trafigura’s founder aware of what was going on. All three firms deny wrongdoing.
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.