Sweet Jayne

Sweeping back the years

To when we were still kids

The landscape lay

Before us

Exploding dustbin lids

The hope of 20 summers

The embrace of time to come

The warmth of July nights

The beat of life’s lone drum

Sweet Jayne

 

Nostalgia lights the darkness

I am here and you are gone

The reality lies

Before me

Finding my way home

The chill of 60 winters

The memory of time gone by

The scent of damp November

The emptiness of the sky

Sweet Jayne

 

Death is Not the End – the conspiracy surrounding the deaths of John Bauldie and Matthew Harding

John Bauldie

I NEVER thought for one minute that a life-long obsession with music legend Bob Dylan would collide head on with my 30 year career as an investigative journalist.

But it has done… in the most unexpected way imaginable.

It is a story of a common love, friendship, a sudden and tragic death and an ongoing murder conspiracy.

A conspiracy which may touch the highest levels of British society.

My love and obsession with Bob Dylan has now spanned more than 40 years.

But it was back in 1987-88, while I was hospitalised in Cardiff with cancer, that a new world of Dylan was unexpectedly opened to me.

And with it an equally unexpected friendship.

To while away the hours and weeks of radiotherapy, my mother bought me a copy of Robert Shelton’s definitive Dylan biography No Direction Home.

I consumed the book in a couple of days. And while meandering through the appendices I noted mention of a quarterly Bob Dylan fan magazine, simply titled The Telegraph.

With an annual subscription of just £10, including delivery, I wrote off and subscribed to the magazine instantly.

And so began the expansion of my world of Bob Dylan and an enduring friendship with the magazine’s editor John Bauldie.

John was an ebullient personality, sometimes sounding dour with his native Lancashire drawl, but always enthused by anything to do with Bob Dylan and his hometown football team Bolton Wanderers.

And as a fellow journalist, we automatically had a lot in common.

John was one of the world’s foremost authorities on Dylan’s music. He wrote several key books on him as well as – since 1981 – editing and publishing the superb Telegraph.

Yet there was nobody less like the stereotyped “anorak” than John.

A former lecturer in English literature he was a dapper and cultured man, who brought a well-rounded intelligence to his quest.

His vocation was to amass the data and win for his hero the serious appraisal due to an outstanding 20th century performer.

He only met Dylan once, and that was by accident.

Following a US tour, he was passing the singer’s tour bus when Dylan sauntered out.

The two men held a brief and genial conversation, in the course of which John won a much prized endorsement for his magazine.

“The Telegraph?” Bob murmured. “I seen a few issues of that. It’s pretty interesting.”

That was all the recognition that John required.

Then in 1987 – coinciding with our first contact – he left his teaching days behind him and joined the small team at the newly-launched Q magazine, as a sub-editor.

Meanwhile, I quickly became a regular contributor to The Telegraph and would often engage in long telephone conversations with John at his home in Romford, swapping his immense knowledge of Dylan with my suggestions for magazine lay-out, typography and style.

He seemed like a god to me and was always the first person I turned to for tickets to Dylan gigs – usually after he broke the news of the great man’s next tour.

John loved to travel with his longstanding partner, Penny Garner, and would invariably plan his year around Dylan’s interminable tour itineraries.

And he always cut a memorable figure at those gigs. You’d spot him, immaculately turned-out in his camel-hair coat as he shared his insights and a few drinks with fellow fans.

And it was wholly due to John that I joined him on a flight to Brussels in the summer of 1989 to follow Bob Dylan around Europe, and witness Dylan’s greatest gig at the Statenhal in Den Haag.

When I moved to Scotland in late 1990 to begin a full-time job as a newspaper editor, our telephone conversations became less frequent, but we still had time to meet for a chat before Dylan’s gigs at Glasgow’s SECC in February 1991.

And my quarterly copy of The Telegraph still arrived promptly every three months.

So, it was in total shock and disbelief when I discovered that John, aged just 47, had been killed in seemingly freak helicopter crash in Cheshire.

It was the same crash which killed Chelsea multi-millionaire vice chairman Matthew Harding and three other people on 22 October 1996.

Harding had given John a lift in his private helicopter to watch his love Bolton Wanderers, defeat Chelsea in a Coca-Cola cup tie at Burnden Park.

Ironically it was their mutual love of Bob Dylan which first brought John and Matthew Harding together.

Some months later I wrote to John’s widow Penny, expressing my condolences and deep sadness at John’s death.

Penny replied almost immediately and I have treasured her hand written letter for the past 20 years.

And there my grief and memory of John Bauldie should have remained.

But, last month my investigative senses were stimulated by a chance conversation with another Dylan fanatic at record fair in my local town.

He told me that Penny had died homeless and destitute a few years after John’s tragic death, and both their deaths were not as they might seem.

On arriving home I quickly found online a copy of the official report into the helicopter crash which took John’s life.

The report, dated November 1997, said that the pilot of the twin-engined French Aerospatiale AS 355F1 Squirrel had neither the qualifications nor experience to control the aircraft after it got into difficulties.

Michael Goss, 38, had gone off route on the night of the crash and headed for an area of high ground which a weather forecaster had advised him to avoid.

The report said that after taking off from Bolton after the match, the flight had to operate below an overcast cloud layer which was below the minimum safe en-route altitude.

But, 20 years later there are now allegations that Matthew Harding and his fellow passengers died, not because of an incompetent helicopter pilot, but because of their knowledge of police and local council corruption in property development schemes within the London Borough of Havering.

And it was the friendship between Harding, John Bauldie and his partner Penny, which now may explain the conspiracy surrounding their deaths.

Penny Garner was a Biology lecturer at Havering College of Further and Higher Education – not far from her and John’s home in Romford.

She prepared her students for their A-levels and future careers in Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Industry.

During the mid 1990s Penny witnessed criminal issues at the college, created in a failed attempt to close the college for property development.

She struggled with these issues not least due to the wayward management of a faculty head who failed to deal with staff who had purchased a machine gun with live ammunition on college premises.

The machine gun was fired on college grounds with a resulting flood of calls to Havering police.

The college had a large number of students from Irish backgrounds and with the Northern Ireland troubles still flaring many feared there might be links to IRA terrorism.

But witnesses later swore that a Conservative councillor encouraged the sale of the machine gun at the college, via a third party intermediary resident in Lake Rise, Romford.

The gun was later resold, by a science technician in Penny’s faculty, who was encouraged by a well-known local Tory activist involved in the property development plans.

Allegations soon surfaced that the firearms sales, random assaults and thefts were part of a dirty tricks campaign by local Conservative activists and councillors in attempt to close the college.

There were further allegations that their friends in the local police had full knowledge of this campaign.

Penny made John aware of these events.

John and his editorship of The Telegraph was already being investigated without just cause in an attempt to find “dirt” against those opposing the closure of the college for property development.

The corruption involved was such that the attempt to close the college was stopped for fear of official enquiries into the conduct of the Romford, Hornchurch and Upminster Conservative Parties and associates in Havering Borough Police station.

Shortly before his death, John told Matthew Harding about the events at the college. Matthew Harding took a keen interest to find out more and promised to look into the matter.

Harding also had a political axe to grind as he disliked the Conservative Party and recently donated funds to Tony Blair and New Labour.

But the conspiracy gets deeper…

Just two years ago it came to light that murdered BBC Crimewatch host Jill Dando had been probing the death of Matthew Harding and his four friends.

Ms Dando was gunned down on her doorstep in Fulham, south-west London, in April 1999. The killer has yet to be caught, but much evidence points to police, MI5 and political corruption at the highest level.

“Jill told me she was investigating the death of her friend Matthew Harding and money laundering claims,” said a BBC colleague.

“She was killed after ignoring two warnings to back off.”

The source claims Harding first told a friend, Irish investigative journalist Veronica Guerin, about his fears about corruption and money laundering over property developments.

But Ms Guerin was then murdered in 1996 while working on a drugs inquiry in Dublin.

A panicked Harding then repeated his concerns to BBC journalist Ms Dando.

He died just four months later.

The source added: “Jill told me she had begun investigating Matthew’s death and the concerns he had shared with her.

“Somebody tried to warn her off but she persisted in her inquiries.”

The conspiracy remains unsolved, but as someone once said: “This can of worms only opens from the inside”.

Watch this space!

Dave Swarbrick RIP – the Passing of a Legend

IT has taken me the whole weekend to get my head around the death of the most wonderful and idiosyncratic of all British musicians: David Cyril Eric Swarbrick.

Even now, some three days since his passing, I am still struggling to find words for Swarb – or just Dave to his many friends.

How do I find the right words for a man who died twice and has occupied an iconic status in my life for nigh on 40 years?

And a man regarded by many as the greatest fiddle player these islands have ever produced?

Although short in stature, he has always been larger than life with his high octane virtuoso fiddle playing, wit, banter and infectious personal charm.

A legend in every meaning of the word.

I first met Dave at the bar of Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy Convention sometime in the late 1980s. A pint of beer in one hand and obligatory cigarette in the other, he giggled and gently spat jokes with us mere mortals, before asking politely: “Whose round is it?”

In recent years we maintained a good friendship through social media, sharing the same political outlook on “a world gone badly wrong”.

When his health started to finally fail in January this year – ironically at the time of David Bowie’s untimely death – I designed him a Get Well card with a picture of Bowie on the front and a “Message from God” simply stating: “you’ll have to wait, Dave”.

The juxtaposition of Bowie’s final Lazarus album, and Swarb’s final band, also called Lazarus was obvious to us both.

I sent the card to the hospital in Aberystwyth, where he was being treated. His wife, Jill, responded that he “loved it”.

His passing six months later is tragically sad, but somehow expected.

For many years Dave suffered steadily worsening health due to emphysema.

There was huge embarrassment for the Daily Telegraph in 1999, when it published a premature obituary for Swarb, after he was admitted to hospital in his home town of Coventry, with a chronic lung infection.

When informed that the musician was still alive the Telegraph’s obituaries editor and his staff were said to be “distraught”.

Luckily the piece made flattering reading, describing Swarb as “a small, dynamic, charismatic figure, cigarette perched precariously on his bottom lip, unruly hair flapping over his face, pint of beer ever at hand, who could electrify an audience with a single frenzied sweep of his bow”

After the initial shock and apologies, Dave could see the funny side, coming out with the priceless one-liner: “It’s not the first time I’ve died in Coventry.”

“After all, I’d enjoyed the text of the obit – it was very complimentary,” he explained. “And it had answered a question I’d often asked myself: whether any paper would bother when I died.”

In fact Swarb went on to turn the newspaper’s error to his advantage, admitting that “I never got half as much attention playing as by dying.”

“So, I photocopied the obits, took them to gigs, signed them “RIP Dave Swarbrick” and sold them for £1.

“After all, where else are you going to get a signed obituary? I had to stop, though, when The Telegraph got in touch and told me I couldn’t do it as they had the copyright,” he later recalled.

Dave Swarbrick, the violinist and singer, was one of the most influential folk musicians of the 20th century.

He was born at New Malden, Surrey, on 5 April, 1941.

He was first drawn to folk music after taking up the guitar during the skiffle boom of the late 1950s.

When he was 16, the pianist Beryl Marriott invited him to join a ceilidh dance band. She also persuaded him to have another crack at the fiddle, which he had played as a child but which he had long since consigned to the attic.

In the 1960s Swarb was invited to play in some of the sessions of Ewan MacColl’s and Charles Parker’s Radio Ballads — setting stories about Britain’s fishermen, roadbuilders, miners, boxers and travellers to music.

Through these he was introduced to Ian Campbell, and joined the Ian Campbell Folk Group in time to play on their first record, EP Ceilidh At The Crown (1962); he went on to help establish them as stars of the emerging folk club scene.

I still have a faded poster from a gig the group played at Kirkwall in January 1966. It hangs on my living room wall, as one of many mementos.

A year earlier Swarb had been invited to play on Martin Carthy’s first album.

Later in 1966 – just as England were winning the World Cup – Swarb suddenly decided to emigrate to Denmark and marry his Danish girlfriend. But with little money and no return ticket, he was detained at the Hook of Holland by customs, and promptly sent home again.

He ended up staying in London with Martin Carthy, with whom he went on to develop an important partnership.

The intuitive interplay between Carthy’s guitar and Swarb’s fiddle was something entirely new. Their albums, Byker Hill (1967), But Two Came By (1968) and Prince Heathen (1969) broke the mould of traditional song arrangement and opened the door for the fusion of folk and rock.

When he was asked to play on a session for Fairport Convention in 1969, however, Dave had never even heard of the band.

He was initially booked for one number only, but he ended up playing on four tracks on Fairport’s Unhalfbricking album (1969) and was invited to join the band full time.

His first album as a fully fledged member of Fairport Convention was Liege and Lief (1969), which broke new ground in marrying traditional songs with rock.

Two members of the band, Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings, walked out after disputes about the direction of their music. This left Swarbrick and the guitarist Richard Thompson to take their place at the core of the band.

Over the next 15 years, Fairport Convention undertook world tours and made more than a dozen albums.

After Richard Thompson’s departure in 1970, Swarb developed into a surprisingly sensitive songwriter, and also took on the role of lead singer. In 1971 he was the prime creative drive behind Fairport Convention’s most ambitious project, Babbacombe Lee, an album based on the story of John Lee, a convicted murderer who was reprieved after three attempts to hang him at Exeter in 1885 had failed.

Swarb remained a constant presence throughout the numerous internal disputes which disrupted Fairport.

But continual playing of the electric violin left him virtually deaf in one ear, and in 1984 he decided to retire.

During his Fairport years he had also released three well- received solo albums, Swarbrick (1976), Swarbrick 2 (1977) and Lift the Lid and Listen (1978).

He reverted to the acoustic violin as he returned to folk clubs with fellow Fairport member Simon Nicol.

He also made occasional returns to the Fairport fold, playing at their annual Cropredy Reunion Festival in Oxfordshire.

“I’m always amazed to listen to my Fairport stuff,” he said in 2014. “It’s so fast. What was I on?”

In 1988 Swarb linked up again with Martin Carthy. They made some successful tours, and produced a couple of fine albums, Life and Limb (1990) and Skin and Bone (1992).

He also spent some years in Australia, working with the guitarist and singer Alistair Hulett, with whom he recorded the impressive The Cold Grey Light (1998), before returning home.

Then came his hospitalisation with emphysema and the Telegraph’s infamous obituary.

Almost immediately his long-time friend and drinking buddy Dave Pegg and wife Christine launched the SwarbAid appeal.

This included a fund-raising concert at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in July 1999, and a limited-edition EP recorded live, to raise cash for Dave whilst his poor health prevented him from working.

It is a personal joy that I still have a copy of that EP.

After a relapse a few years later, they launched SwarbAid II with a similar concert in 2004 – and yes I have that T Shirt too!

Dave received his double lung transplant on 2nd October that year and a new lease of life.

In 2006, he started touring again with fellow ex-Fairporter, Maartin Allcock, and Kevin Dempsey – calling themselves, with a wink to the Telegraph’s premature obituary, Swarb’s Lazarus, producing the album Live and Kicking (2006) and appearing at the Cropredy Festival.

He also reignited his partnership with Martin Carthy, with whom in later years he regularly hit the road for an autumn tour.

In 2007 he joined his old cohorts from Fairport Convention on their 40th anniversary as a band at Cropredy to play their legendary album Liege and Lief, in its entirity on stage.

It is one of the highlights of my life to have been there and witness Swarb play as amazingly as ever.

In 2010, backed by a stellar array of guest musicians, Swarb released Raison D’être, his first solo album for nearly 20 years.

It was reviewed in more than 20 publications, the English Folk Dance and Song Society Magazine describing it as “the work of a fine fiddler who simply refuses to lie down and rest on his not inconsiderable laurels”.

In 2003, Swarb received the Gold Badge from the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Gold Badge of Merit from the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.

In 2004 he received a lifetime achievement award in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and in 2006 Fairport’s Liege and Lief album was voted “Most Influential Folk Album of All Time” by Radio 2 listeners.

At the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, he and Martin Carthy won the “Best Duo” Award. In 2012 he received another lifetime achievement award at the 2012 Fatea awards.

In the summer of 2014 – following a flurry of emails – I was lucky enough to visit Dave’s home in Coventry, where his wife Jill sold me one of his beautiful old fiddles from his Fairport days.

The fiddle also hangs in my living room – next to that 1966 poster.

I have determined that the fiddle is now retired and will never again be played.

Now as I type the last few words of this eulogy, I look down on the desk at a yellowed 1980 copy of The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs – distinguished by Dave’s signature on the inside cover… it was his own personal copy.

His album English Fiddler plays gently in the background.

In so many different ways, David Cyril Eric Swarbrick will always be part of my life.

Rest in Peace, great and wonderful man.

Dave Swarbrick is survived by his wife, the painter Jill Swarbrick-Banks, whom he married in 1999, and by a son and two daughters.

Born 5 April 1941, died 3 June 2016, aged 75.

 

She’s Gone Again

Twenty-six years are gone

Since we laughed out loud

At nonsense

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, a whole life

A child born and scars torn

Love knot sealed and tied

Goddess cried, Goddess died

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since I kissed your sweet cheek

Said farewell

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, the sky is grey

The hungry earth, the empty hole

The velvet box is death’s own bed

Eve’s own kin is dead

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since your soul passed away

To heaven

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

One last breath, a spirit shed

The heavens frown, an angel down

Spirit moaned, lick of flame

Grips the sky, she’s gone again

 

Twenty-six years are gone

Since we commended your body

To the ground

We cried

You died

This is your song

 

Final Thoughts on Rod Pounsett

Blog RodPounsett

I THOUGHT I had written the last words about my late uncle Rod Pounsett, who died following heart failure on 9 December 2015.

But in the 10 weeks since his loss I have been inundated with emails from friends and colleagues who were unaware that this pioneering journalist had passed away, aged 76.

So I have decided to collect some of these emails and memories here as a lasting tribute to my uncle.

Rod started his career as a reporter and photographer on the Worthing and Shoreham Heralds in the early 1960s.

He went on to host a daily show on BBC Radio Brighton in the 1970s – one of the very first phone-in radio shows – and later became senior producer for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. He was at the helm when they reported the death of John Lennon in 1980 and the great storm of 1987.

He also worked for the Daily Express and started the first western news bureau in Moscow after the end of the Cold War.

He had a troubled personal life. He was married three times, and, like me, had more relationships than you could shake a stick at! He was often a very difficult person to deal with, but he was an amazing journalist, a good uncle and a great friend to many people.

He was also the person who got me into journalism when I was just 17 years-old, by securing me an interview with the editor of my local newspaper.

Anyway, here are the tributes from his former work colleagues:

While we knew that Rod wasn’t always the easiest person to work with, his pioneering spirit, sense of adventure, and passion for all things Russian gave us Brits a real excitement about being in Moscow – that for some of us has lasted to this day – and brought opportunities to all of us, both British and Russian. 

He introduced me (and Andersen Consulting) to Moscow in December 1990 – in fact a number of us were in Moscow only last month celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “Moscow Bread Project” which began when Rod started to bang on Moscow City Council doors in September 1990 and arranged for us to meet the deputy mayor, Sergei Stankevich (who also joined us for the reunion last month).  

This led to a fabulous 3-year project, which was undoubtedly the most exciting project of my 25-year consulting career. How sad and ironic that Rod died on the day we returned from Moscow after a 25th anniversary reunion of the project he began. 

We (a team of five from Andersen Consulting) had an amazing fortnight with Rod in Moscow in December 1990, one that I am 100% sure that my colleagues and I will never forget – as he introduced us to the city and helped us set up our first ever project there. 

He was an incredible character back in those days, full of optimism and real pioneering spirit – and what seemed to be a real love of Russia and everything to do with it.  He was full of stories, plans, ideas, revelations, and theories – some of which turned out, we later discovered, to be complete figments of his imagination, but always entertaining nevertheless. 

The following year, late 1991, we returned to Moscow to conduct the main part of the project – we were now a 10-strong team, and Rod continued to work with us, to provide overall context of goings-on in Russia, and to help us arrange meetings with politicians, press, etc.   

I must confess it became quite tricky to work with him and he was clearly under a lot of stress through goings-on in his personal life which we never really understood.  He was always needing to be loved, and became melancholy and aggressive if he thought that he wasn’t. 

But despite all this, he remained one of the most colourful characters I have ever met and worked with, and I will always be grateful to him for opening the doors of Moscow to me, a place I remain to this day totally entranced by, and I still return several times every year, mainly just to remember those amazing days with Rod and the work we did there at such an amazing turning point in history.  

I stayed in touch with Rod for a few years after that, and then our contact dwindled to a call every couple of years or so. I started to send him emails and messages to see if we could meet. He rarely responded over the past few years, but on the couple of occasions I spoke to him on the phone he said he’d been very unwell and was awaiting various treatments and operations.  I wished him well, and he called me again out of the blue several months ago, and we shared a few wonderful memories of our timed together in Moscow. He sounded frail, but promised that we should meet again if he got through the latest round of treatments.  Sadly it was not to be, and I will always be sorry for that.

RIP Rod Pounsett.

Stephen (Andersen Consulting)

I was trying to find a current phone number for Rod when I sadly came across your notice of his death.  I had wondered why he didn’t answer his email, though we had been in touch infrequently of late.  I’m so sorry to hear of his demise.  I worked with him on the Today programme for many years and had a lot of fun during that time. 

Sue (Today, BBC Radio 4)

My husband, who was Deputy Editor of the Today programme for several years, was a colleague and friend of Rod’s for many years and Rod came to stay with us at our several homes over a long period.

I didn’t have to work with Roddy (as I always called him) which sometimes was not easy for his co-workers, and I was exceedingly fond of him – as were both our sons.  He had an amazing gentle charm about him which was very endearing.  

We went to visit him in Worthing when he was house-hunting but then at the end of 2014 we moved to France and lost touch.  We came home one day to find a message from him on the answering-machine with a phone number, but though we tried it many times he never answered.

I am sorry therefore to hear of his death via some BBC colleagues, and though indeed he had a troubled personal life as you put it – he was much liked by many people; I for one shall not forget his charm, his kindness, his lovely gentle and reassuring voice, and his constant stream of exciting fun ideas and things to do.

Sherry (Today, BBC Radio 4)

This is very sad… Rod was sometimes difficult to deal with, but I do have a lot of fond memories of the time we spent together.

One thing is for sure – he was never dull. RIP.

Sergei (Moscow)

Rod will not be forgotten.  He brought a unique spirit to our time in Moscow.  It was an unforgettable times for so many reasons and he was certainly one of them.

Katherine (Moscow)

It is always sad to lose one of life’s great adventurers and, in my experience of him, Rod was certainly one of those!

Ken (Moscow)

Rod was my first foreign employer, eccentric, superbly verbal, kind and hospitable, full of different unheard of stories, omnipresent and mobile, a great, but messy (you should see the kitchen after his creative job) chef. I remember him waiting for the doctor and saying: ‘What can I expect from the doctor and my health: I drink, smoke, eat a lot.” RIP, Rod

Larissa (Moscow)

Really sad… Rod loved life so much and seemed to enjoy every moment of it! It was never boring working for him.

Lena (Moscow)

There you go Uncle Rod, people did love you!

Rest in peace.

More about Rod can be found here:

https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/the-death-of-rod-langham-pounsett/

https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2015/12/10/john-lennon-my-working-class-hero/

http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2015/news/former-regional-reporter-and-post-cold-war-pioneer-dies-at-76/

 

Note: If anyone wants to add their memories of Rod to this piece, please email me at: nicoutterside@writeahead.co.uk

 

The Death of Rod Langham Pounsett

IT is with great sadness I announce the death of my uncle Rod Pounsett (my mum’s young brother).

Rod started his career as a reporter and photographer on the Worthing and Shoreham Heralds in the early 1960s.

He went on to host a daily show on BBC Radio Brighton in the 1970s – one of the very first phone-in radio shows – and later became senior producer for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. He was at the helm when they reported the death of John Lennon in 1980 and the great storm of 1987.

He also worked for the Daily Express and started the first western news bureau in Moscow after the end of the Cold War.

He had a troubled personal life, but he was an amazing journalist and a good uncle.

I had not seen Rod for many years, but he was the person who got me into journalism when I was just 17 years-old, by securing me an interview with the editor of my local newspaper. I have many happy memories of listening to off-the-record tapes of interviews he had with the likes of Denis Healey, Jim Callaghan, Jimmy Young, Norman Tebbit, Clive James and many others.

It took a further 10 years before I became a fully-fledged hack, but it was Rod who started me off.

He passed away yesterday aged 76. More about him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rod-pounsett-6551891b

I will write a more lengthy eulogy in my blog at the weekend.

This appeared on Hold The Front Page on 17 December: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2015/news/former-regional-reporter-and-post-cold-war-pioneer-dies-at-76/

 

Father revisited

When you died

I could not cry

My heart it heaved

My soul was crushed

I vowed to you

Sitting at your

Side

That I’d carry you

Onwards

Upwards

To another

Place And that

Would be my joy

So I stood up

Bold

Your first born

And told

Your tale

To others that

You loved

My hands they

Shook

And I could not

Look

As your casket

Entered the

Crimson fire

Now seven years

Have passed

You are with me still

And the tears have

Flowed

Too often

Sometimes too freely

Drowning

Memories

Of what was

And what never

Became

Among the weeds

Of Yesterday

Suppression of the Truth – Part 2: Gary Lineker and Radioactive Poison

Suppression of the Truth

Part 2: Gary Lineker and Radioactive Poison

IT was the summer of 1990.

Like many, I was held bedazzled as the Italia 90 World Cup unfolded on our TV screens, and England found football glory with David Platt, Gary Lineker and the irrepressible Paul (Gaza) Gascoigne.

Earlier that year I had moved to be a reporter on a busy weekly newspaper in North Wales, leaving behind four care free years working for glossy computer magazines.

So, I sat on the warm evening of Wednesday, 4 July in a large pub near Conwy, with my new pals from the paper to watch a truly memorable game of football on a large TV screen.

The semi-final of the World Cup: England versus West Germany.

It was a game you couldn’t miss. It was a passion.

We were a happy bunch as we forgot about work and chatted about football and whether Gascoigne was the answer to England’s lack of a creative midfield.

We drank beer, cheered loudly as Lineker scored, shouted obscenities when Gaza was booked and cried into our beer after we lost the game on penalties to the Germans.

More beer was consumed until we wended our ways home.

The next day was press day at my newspaper in nearby Llandudno Junction – the day our weekly work went to press… a hectic morning, followed by feet up and a chance to recharge batteries in the afternoon.

Nursing a hangover (in more ways than one), the morning flew by in a blur, and after a sandwich and a coffee I sat at my desk and began to write a list of stories and tasks for the following week.

The office was empty as the phone on the neighbouring desk suddenly rang.

Out of routine I picked up the call.

“Weekly News, Nic Outterside, can I help you?” I asked.

A woman’s voice answered: “Are you a reporter?”

“Yes,” I replied, and began to listen.

Within a minute the lady on the phone had me listening like I had never listened before, and scribbling notes like there was no tomorrow.

She explained nervously that she was a nurse and the local hospital and her husband had worked for the past 20 years at Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power station, situated some 36 miles away on the outskirts of Snowdonia National Park.

The previous evening her husband had planned to come home early to watch the World Cup semi-final and enjoy a few beers.

Instead, she explained, he had arrived home crying and handed to her an official letter he had received from his employers Magnox Ltd, which informed him that, following internal testing, his body had received more than 20 times the safe clinical level of radiation during his years working at the plant.

He was to be transferred to another part of the plant for his own health.

At this point the lady on the phone began to cry uncontrollably.

“I don’t know much about radiation or my husband’s job, but I do know two of his friends there have recently been diagnosed with cancer, and my husband has been having stomach pains and had bleeding from his bowels,” she stuttered.

She explained that she was terrified, as the letter her husband had brought home was marked “Confidential” and he had been told he and his work colleagues were bound by the Official Secrets Act.

“I can’t even tell you my name or where we live” she added, “Or we could both end up in prison.”

I sat gobsmacked by what I had heard.

But I knew that as a journalist I could not do anything with this news unless I had proof.

I gently informed the lady of my dilemma and suggested we could maybe meet somewhere neutral so I could see the letter for myself.

After a moment’s hesitation she agreed, and gave me the location of a bus shelter on the Penrhyn Road, some three miles from my office.

A meeting time of 4pm was made. I explained I would park near the bus shelter in my black Fiat Uno car.

And so my first “Deep Throat” liaison was arranged.

But as I put down the phone, something worried me… if this news and indeed the letter were bound by the Official Secrets Act (OSA), would that stop me revealing the information in our newspaper?

I knew a little about the OSA as my dad had signed it at least twice on contracts he worked on for the Ministry of Defence, but I needed to know more.

A quick phone call to a legal friend gave me the answer I needed.

“It is a sham and a lie,” he told me, “A frightener employed by the company to keep their workers quiet.

“While the technical data about the reactors may be deemed as being in the national security interest, the health of the reactor workers definitely is not.

“This is a civil nuclear fuel facility, not bloody Faslane,” he added.

I was relieved and thanked him.

Two hours later I sat nervously in my car, parked across the road from the arranged meeting place.

A few minutes passed and a lady in her early 50s, with dyed blonde hair and wearing a green coat walked up to the bus shelter.

She looked in the direction of my car. I caught her eye and beckoned her across the road.

She bent down and looked in my open car window.

“Mr Outterside?” she asked nervously.

Her eyes were red from crying as she opened the passenger door and sat next to me.

We started to chat about the sudden change of weather – it had begun to rain – as she hurriedly took a folded letter from her handbag.

“Here it is,” she whispered.

I tried to explain that the Official Secrets Act threat was bunkum, but quickly knew her fears did not allow her to believe me.

I read the letter from top to bottom – even glanced at her husband’s name and their address which gave me a bona fide – and scribbled a few notes in my note book.

I no longer have the technical data that was included in that letter, but I was quickly able to ascertain that this poor lady’s husband had indeed received something like 23 times the safe recognised level of radioactive contamination during his years working at Trawsfynydd.

Seven days later I made my first exclusive front page splash at my newspaper. The headline rang out: “Workers health fears over radioactive poisoning”.

I was delighted to break some news that the nuclear industry did not want to become public.

Inside I felt my first buzz as a proper journalist.

But, I also thought deeply about the man – and his colleagues – who had their lives ruined by their toxic work environment.

Some years later I discovered that the man had died in 1991, “after a long illness”.

Earlier this year (2015), it was reported that the now partially decommissioned Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station may be responsible for elevated levels of cancer found in communities downwind of it.

Research supervised by Dr Chris Busby, attached to the Latvian Academy of Sciences in Riga, showed the incidence of breast cancer was five times higher downwind from the power station than would have been expected.

Some other kinds of cancer were found at around double the expected rate.

Trawsfynydd is the only inland nuclear power station to have been built in the UK.

It has two “Magnox type CO2 cooled graphite moderated” reactors and is situated on a lake, Llyn Trawsfynydd, which acts as a cooling water source and is also a sink for radioactivity released from the plant.

A significant amount of radioactive material exists in the lake bed sediment.

The prevailing winds at the site are south westerly and more than 90% of those living downwind of the power station were surveyed by researchers working for Dr Busby.

The paper, published by Jacobs Journal of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, states: “Trawsfynydd is a ‘dirty’ nuclear power station. As it has carbon dioxide, gas-cooled graphite block reactors its releases to air are higher than most other types of nuclear reactor.

“In addition, all the liquid releases are discharged to the lake, where they have accumulated to the lake body sediment.

“Results show very clearly that the downwind population has suffered because of these exposures. This is most clear in breast cancer in the younger women below 60, where the rates were almost five times the expected.

“Additionally we see a doubling of risk in those who ate fish from Trawsfynydd lake, which supports the conclusion that it is mainly a nuclear power station effect that is being seen.”

Other forms of cancer showing elevated levels included prostate, leukaemia, mesothelioma and pancreas.

Altogether, 38 people in the area researched were diagnosed with cancer between 2003 and 2005, against an “expected” level of 19.5.

The report says: “These results are remarkable and relevant to political decisions about nuclear energy.”

Last month a spokesman for Magnox Ltd said: “Comment on the details of the study is a matter for experts in public health.

“However the radiation exposures of our workforce, and that of the general public, from authorised discharges from the nuclear industry, are well below the maximum levels authorised by independent regulatory bodies.

“The limits are set to ensure members of the public are properly protected.”

Dr Jill Meara, director of Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE), said: “Identification of disease clusters are matters for local public health teams. If those teams needs specialist support, such as in radiation epidemiology, they can talk to CRCE for assistance.”

No Time to Cry

They sat together by the darkening sky

He looked at her as the carriage pulled by

The wind it whispered

The day grew dim

He knew right then it was up to him

Don’t cry

Time goes by

She looked closely at his face and caught a spark

Lovers walked hand in hand across the city park

The music it talked

The day bore down

He had carried too long the thorny crown

Don’t cry

Time goes by

He took her hand gently and held it tight

Neon lights flickered into a midsummer night

The memory it lingered

And the day was reborn

The undertaker blew his frugal horn

Don’t cry

Time goes by

They both shared this treasured place in time

He tied her green shawl and drank her wine

The coldness cursed

That the day did not last

Her grey headstone now just an echo of the past

Don’t cry

Time goes by