Miscarriages of Justice Reporting Back in Favour, Claims O’Neill

A Scottish investigative journalist is claiming a new enthusiasm to report alleged miscarriages of justice, after a period when it was considered ‘old hat’.

Writing in The Guardian yesterday, Eamonn O’Neill namechecks former colleagues at STV, David Scott, Blair Jenkins and Gus Macdonald as among those who gave him greatest encouragement when he was starting out as an investigative journalist.

His piece (here) accompanies an article by him where he argues for the re-opening of a case which saw a Ray Gilbert jailed in 1981 for the murder of a Liverpool bookmaker.

His telling of Gilbert’s story is part of a Justice on Trial series being run by the newspaper.

O’Neill continues to investigate possible miscarriages of justice but also runs an MSc course in Investigative Journalism at the University of Strathclyde. His most notable success was in 2002 when Scot, Robert Brown, was freed from jail, after 26 years – wrongfully convicted of a murder in Manchester. O’Neill spent 11 years on the case.

He writes: “I also recently coached a BBC region’s factual team on how to use modern technology to get at the truth in miscarriage of justice cases. Progress like this makes me think the wheel is turning again. I watch a new generation of journalists now engage with this issue – wrestling with documents, DNA reports and eyewitness testimony to produce original journalism. I hope their work is handled by editors who are as sympathetic and knowledgeable as the tough, compassionate journalists I knew. Investigations aren’t as prominent as they once were, but that by no means indicates that the terrible crimes they should be uncovering have gone away.”

This is O’Neill’s 20th year doing investigative journalism. He is currently developing investigative projects with BBC Radio Scotland and also with [director of content] Alan Clements at STV, on projects for Channel 4’s Dispatches series.

Comment: Eamonn O’Neill is to be applauded for perservering with this vital – but, scandalously under-funded – form of investigative journalism.

His persistent pitching to beancounting commissioning editors, both in the press and broadcasting, has been accompanied by a sustained commitment to training a new generation of journalists in this country who comprehend the crucial connections between journalism and justice.

I can personally vouch for the fact that Eamonn inspired a large number of students at Edinburgh Napier University when he taught a heavily subscribed module in Investigative Journalism at that institution.Those students learned about the crucial connections between journalism and justice and, hopefully, some of them will soon be applying such knowledge in the nation’s newsrooms.

Rob Brown