My day job is journalism. I’ve spent much of my career as an investigative reporter, with an emphasis on undercover secret filming work, Freedom of Information work, data journalism and good old fashioned digging. I love a leaked document or database, and 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. My colleagues deserve a great deal of credit too (teamwork is the essence of broadcast journalism) and I’ve mentioned a few names. 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. You’ll be able to see the formative nature of my work when it comes to writing adventure/conspiracy thrillers. If you have any tip-offs for things that I should look into next, please use the form on the website.
Disclaimer: Needless to say the BBC in no way endorses anything on this website, nor of course my fiction.
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.
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
A little bit of historical journalism of the sort Foretold by Thunder’s hapless hack Jake Wolsey specialises in before things get messy. I got exclusive access to a ghoulish diary kept by a vicar at Newgate Prison in the nineteenth century, detailing (and relishing) every execution he presided over.
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 6 O Clock News on BBC1, Radio 4, Five Live and the Daily Telegraph.
Journalists who did approximately fifty thousand times 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 by my colleagues. Witnesses in the court case that eventually saw him overthrown were allegedly intimidated – including purported threats to their families in Bangladesh.
Not investigative journalism, this one: instead the life story of an amazing man I met in Sierra Leone, who I now count as a dear friend. Suleiman Turay witnessed the killing of his own father during the civil war, and was left utterly destitute. Now he is a successful small businessman in Freetown. What a legend. Lots of photography from that trip is in the photography section of the site. I loved Sierra Leone so much; please do visit, when ebola is gone. The country features heavily in The Napoleon Complex, published summer 2016.
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.
Gosh, a memorable day’s work, this. A few days after the London riots, we obtained names and addresses of those who’d pleaded guilty from the Magistrates Court… then went and knocked on their doors to say hello! A pleasure working with Paraic O’Brien on this piece. In the picture he and I are saying hello to one of the little rapscallions. Paraic is now flying high at Channel Four News and perhaps best known for being called a ‘snide’ by Russell Brand after asking him about his living arrangements.
It turned out that a local councillor had been previously jailed in the US… for shooting a man in the head. Here he is with Harriet Harman, before this all emerged. The lion’s share of the credit for this scoop is deserved by BBC London’s former Special Correspondent Kurt Barling, whose crusading public interest journalism was a big inspiration to me. This story led to a change in the law to make it easier to evict councillors who will not resign when they probably ought to.