‘Un­prece­dented – that’s how we’d de­scribe it’

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Steven Mor­ris

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

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