‘We went out with a bang’: Thank you and goodbye, for now, from the Yellow Advertiser

Last week’s Yellow Advertiser was the last edition in print.

Many tears were shed, but we have a talented, hard-working team and I’m confident they will all land on their feet. So the greatest sorrow I feel is for the loss of the paper itself, and the valuable service it provided to our readers.

If you want to know why, just look at our final edition. We couldn’t be more proud of our final paper. The last YA exemplified everything which has made our brand great for the past 43 years. It was packed with nationally significant investigative reporting and positive local changes secured by our journalism.

In our final edition, Basildon Council’s new administration said our reporting had inspired it to throw out a planning application, saving Markhams Chase Recreation Ground from the bulldozers. In the same edition, the council’s Tory opposition also praised the YA, saying our reporting had sped up repair works at Billericay Pool, ensuring it would reopen by the end of the year. Two local victories secured by our intervention. What a way to go out.

On the front page was the end of the current chapter of our investigation into the alleged cover-up of a massive paedophile ring, which operated out of Shoebury in the 1980s. One day after our head office informed the YA that it was in consultation over possible closure, we won a lengthy legal battle against Government to obtain the full criminal record of Dennis King, the notorious child molester who ran the Shoebury ring. We secured that victory with just hours to spare before our final papers had to be sent to the printers.

In January, the YA revealed King had been employed in the 1990s as a registered police informant. Last week’s legal victory enabled us to reveal on our final front page that he’d had more than 20 sexual offences to his name by the time police admitted in a meeting that they were using him as a grass.

The YA’s revelation led the chief of one of the UK’s top child abuse charities, NAPAC, to call for national changes to policing, saying children must never be used as ’bartering chips’, as will inevitably occur in a system where favours such as reduced sentences are conferred upon paedophiles as rewards for supplying information.

Whistleblowing former child protection workers had tried for 25 years to get all manner of national newspapers and broadcasters to investigate why the police response to the ring in 1989/90 had been so lacklustre. But it was the YA, which took up the cause in 2015 and pursued it relentlessly for the next four years, that finally blew the case open.

This is the sort of dedicated reporting which has seen the YA win awards hand over fist for decades. Our Shoebury investigation has won seven national awards and commendations in two-and-a-half years – three of them within the last two months.

Our former deputy editor Steve Neale – who returned to our offices last week to help put together the final editions of the paper – worked with editor Mick Ferris throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s on huge investigations. One revealed Essex Police officers’ mistreatment of police dogs. Another exposed a man setting up a private school in south Essex as a convicted child abuser in the United States. The YA coaxed him into a meeting at its offices and confronted him with its evidence, then had its photographers snap him as he fled the building.

That investigative ethos has never left the YA. Look at some of the stories we’ve broken just this year. We exclusively obtained an internal Essex Police report saying severe cuts had left the force incapable of tackling the majority of crimes. It was the YA that revealed Basildon Council’s plan to flog a £1million plot of land to an untested developer for £1. We also broke the news that even more houses were being planned for green land off of Dry Street.

The YA has broken every major story about the Dry Street development since 2013, including uncovering the spiralling cost of the market relocation, which landed taxpayers with a multi-million-pound bill after promises that it would be delivered at ‘zero cost to the public’.

We revealed the planned town centre college campus – hailed as a great boon and the key reason for approving the Dry Street development chain – was shrinking to a fraction of its original size now the luxury houses were underway. We broke that news a year before it was officially confirmed.

We were consistently ahead of the curve. For years we ran front page warnings about Thurrock’s deadly air pollution, poo-pooed by Thurrock Council… until Government decided to dump a new Thames crossing in Thurrock and the council fought the proposal by saying it would worsen the borough’s catastrophic pollution problem.

Our work highlighting Basildon’s own growing air pollution problem secured a promise in 2014 from the council’s Tory leader Phil Turner, to write new environmental protections into the Local Plan. In the same year, our ‘Justice for Justin’ campaign – backed by celebrity lawyer Mr Loophole – secured crucial road safety improvements around Basildon Hospital after the death of local musician Justin Bowman.

Our record on campaigning journalism is just as strong as our reputation for investigations. Across 2013/4, we ran a campaign which created almost 250 new apprenticeships for local young people. In 2012 we helped raise £25,000 for OAPs in fuel poverty. In recent years, we’ve run an annual Christmas toy appeal for Basildon and Southend hospitals.

In 2004, we ran an award-winning campaign which saved Thorpe Bay School from closure. A decade later, a YA investigation was credited with exposing the real reason behind Essex Council’s plot to close the Deanes School, with Conservatives going on the record against their own party, revealing the plan was an act of political spite born out of a dispute between the north Essex cabinet and its south Essex colleagues. Shortly afterwards, the decision to close the school was reversed.

In 1998, Tory councillor Paul White (now better known as Lord Hanningfield) said the Conservatives had lost control of Essex Council as a direct result of our ‘Who ate all the pies’ campaign over cuts to Meals on Wheels. In 1999, a YA campaign prompted Castle Point council to plant an avenue of remembrance on Canvey Island.

Also in 1999, editor Mick Ferris, photographer Martin Dalton and then news editor Matt Adams were flown to Kosovo by the MoD after we successfully appealed for sweets so that Royal Engineer bomb disposal officers could get young Kosovar children’s attention and teach them about the dangers of unexploded ordinance in that war zone. In just three weeks we received enough to fill six Post Office sacks. It’s a trip that even 20 years later, Mick and Martin find difficult to speak about.

In 2014, it was the YA’s intervention which prompted then highways chief Rodney Bass at Essex Council to switch on street lights at Christmas and New Year. In 2016, we won a legal action against Essex Council, forcing the authority to admit to years-long delays in the coroner service. When our closure was announced this week, we were in the middle of another legal action against Essex Council, over its refusal to publish a report into allegations its own staff had sexually abused children in care (which I will continue to pursue as a civilian).

This is why trade publication HoldTheFrontPage has called us ‘the mighty Yellow Advertiser’. Just last month, the Society of Editors called us a free weekly paper ‘that consistently punches above its weight, earning nominations for its strong investigative coverage in national journalism awards’.

News of our closure has prompted expressions of sadness from Basildon Council to the House of Lords, and from the BBC to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Our local journalism was so strong, it was considered to be of national significance – and that is the greatest loss in this situation: the professional, thorough scrutiny of councils, police forces and other local powers which can only be provided by a dedicated, diligent newspaper team. The pain for our staff will be short-term, but the loss of the democratic scrutiny we provided is forever.

From everyone here at the YA, thank you for the last 43 years. It has been a pleasure to serve you. Thanks for all the letters, all the tip-offs, all the generous support of our campaigns.

And please, support your local press. Corruption thrives in the dark.

Charles Thomson

Chief Reporter Email: basildon@yellowad.co.uk