‘Unprecedented – that’s how we’d describe it’
The Salisbury Journal has been at the centre of the novichok story since the discovery of two people collapsed on a bench in March and as it emerged that Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, had been poisoned.
It is literally at the heart of the latest poisoning – its offices are a few doors from the hostel where Dawn Sturgess lived before she received a fatal dose. Staff have to pass through a police cordon to get to work.
It has been an extraordinary time for the local paper. “We don’t get a lot of murders or stabbings,” says Rebecca Hudson, the head of news. “The word the police use is ‘unprecedented’.
“I suppose that’s probably a good way to describe it for us too … I don’t think any of us ever thought we’d be working on a story like this.”
Hudson, 23, is torn between relishing the scale of the story and sadness at the impact it is having on the cathedral city. “I’ve lived here all my life and it’s not nice to see cordons up and people worried and feeling nervous. The news of Dawn’s death struck the local reporters especially as quite shocking.”
The Journal has concentrated on the human impact. Hudson believes the poisonings may have brought Salisbury closer. “When I grew up here, it felt like Salisbury had a great community spirit. In the last four or five years a lot of that had dissipated … now there are lots of people pulling together.”
It has been a gruelling ride for the Journal. Hudson has just one other trained reporter and a photographer to call on. Two apprentices were recruited a couple of days before Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fell ill.
“It was a baptism of fire for them,” says Hudson. “Sink or swim.”
At a time when the local and regional press are under such pressure, the poisonings may serve as a reminder of how vital a paper at the heart of a community can be.
Rebecca Hudson, head of news, by the police cordon near the Journal’s office