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Journalism alumna scoops Paul Foot Award

Alexandra Heal (MA Investigative Journalism 2018), has won Private Eye’s Paul Foot Award 2020.

by Matthew Little (Communications Officer)

Alexandra won the award with her project titled ‘Nowhere to Turn,’ a series uncovering the shocking stories of how police forces handle domestic abuse complaints against their own officers.

The Paul Foot Award was set up in memory of revered investigative journalist Paul Foot, who died in 2004.

Alexandra was presented with the award in an online ceremony with Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop.

Alexandra said: “I was in shock to win the Paul Foot Award as really didn’t expect it. Paul Foot was such a respected journalist, so it is an honour to be associated with his name.

“All the entries were important and impressive so it is great to see that investigative journalism is still going strong.”

Dismantling the ‘boys club’

Now a reporter at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Alexandra says she is glad her stories highlighting the injustice faced by some domestic abuse survivors at the hands of the police has been recognised – a project she started during her Masters at City.

“I started working on these stories during my final project at City where I phoned 150 domestic abuse charities and sent FOIs to every police force in the country,” says Alexandra.

“The more research I did into this story, the more women I found who had suffered domestic abuse at the hands of police. In these cases, the abusers were members of the police force themselves and would use their power to intimidate the victim into silence.

“Some of the police forces would avoid disciplining their officers who were reported for domestic abuse by saying that their actions were carried out in their personal lives rather than on the job.”

Alexandra Heal (MA Investigative Journalism 2018) and reporter at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism Alexandra Heal (MA Investigative Journalism 2018) and reporter at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

According to Alexandra’s FOI request, police officers and staff across the UK were reported for alleged domestic abuse almost 700 times in the three years up to April 2018. Just 3.9 per cent of police domestic abuse reports in England and Wales ended in a conviction, compared with 6.2 per cent among the general population.

As a result of Alexandra’s story, The Centre for Women’s Justice launched a super-complaint in March 2020, demanding an oversight of all police-perpetrated domestic violence cases involving the police force and calling for external police services to be involved in investigations.

Keep going – even when things look the worst

Describing herself as in investigative journalism for the long term, Alexandra encourages all aspiring journalists to keep going even when things look the worst.

Alexandra said: “I found my time at City really hard, I always questioned whether I would ever be able to find a story, but the encouragement of my tutors really helped.

“That is really important for any journalist, even if you feel like you are getting nowhere, keep trying no matter what and you will get somewhere.”

Private Eye’s judging panel was chaired by Padraig Reidy, editor of Little Atoms and editorial director of communications agency 89up.

The panel included Francis Wheen, Private Eye; Simon Jenkins, Guardian; Helen Lewis, The Atlantic; Janine Gibson, The FT; Julia Langdon, Guardian and Paul Foot’s son, Matt Foot

Previous winner and a former PGDip Newspaper Journalism student Emily Dugan, now working at Buzzfeed was also on the panel.

For more information on Journalism at City see here.

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