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Different Perspectives…

An Interview with Court Reporter Jenny Loweth

 

Jenny Loweth is the court reporter for the Telegraph & Argus, the daily newspaper for the city of Bradford, England, and very much the life-blood of this diverse city. She has reported on thousands of criminal cases and has a famously unique connection with the local population through her stories.

The Crime Hub wanted to find out more about Jenny and her fascinating job.

Jenny, how did you first get into this line of work?

I began working as a journalist for the Westmorland Gazette in my home town of Kendal in the 1970s. In those days, the Crown Court sat in the Town Hall a few times a year. I remember being in awe of the judge the first time I was sent to cover the proceedings. After the short adjournment, I returned to see a stooped elderly man with shopping bags crossing the stage where His Honour had been seated. I couldn’t understand what he was doing there until I suddenly realised it was the judge returning from his lunch break. I found the ‘reality check’ most puzzling at the time.

In the 1980s, I was employed by the Nottingham Evening Post as a full-time Crown Court reporter. I began working for the paper on a dank and misty day in January, 1981. There was sensation in the newsroom when we heard that the Yorkshire Ripper had been caught. The reporters clustered round the fax machine to see the first grainy photo of Peter Sutcliffe arriving from the Press Association. 

At that time, Nottingham Crown Court still sat at the old Shire Hall, with its dark polished woodwork and long velvet curtains. All the hearings then moved to the new building on Canal Street. That was in the days when the paper sold more than 130,000 copies a day. If I phoned an important 10am sentencing hearing over to the copy takers, it would be on the front page being sold by the street vendors by the time I left the court building at lunchtime. 

I have been working as a Crown Court reporter for the Telegraph & Argus for around 15 years, with a ten month break last year when I was employed as a stable hand at a big livery yard in the Yorkshire Dales. I returned to Bradford on October 1, 2018, and since then I have covered many big cases, including the M62 shooting trial, the Meggy Khan murder trial and a multi-handed grooming trial, as well as the usual run of drug dealers, dangerous drivers and house burglars. 

You have watched so many trials over the years; does it ever get frustrating that you aren’t taking a more active role in the proceedings?

Only if I consider a sentence to be wholly inadequate, because I know how angry our readers will be on the T&A Facebook page. The phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ often springs to mind. Otherwise, I am quite happy with my role. We sometimes have to stand up in court to answer questions from the judge. That is enough positive engagement for me. 

There was sensation in the newsroom when we heard that the Yorkshire Ripper had been caught. The reporters clustered round the fax machine to see the first grainy photo of Peter Sutcliffe arriving from the Press Association

I know news outlets have all sorts of systems in place to monitor what your readers like – which is of more interest, a guilty or a not guilty verdict?

A guilty verdict accompanied by the sentence and a custody photo from the police, if the defendant gets at least 18 months immediate imprisonment. But it can depend on the case. I recently covered a very emotive manslaughter trial that ended up with a hung jury. There were very strong feelings on both sides. Either verdict would have caused massive controversy.

Is there a particular type of case that generates more hits on your website, or sales of papers?

Our readers love drug dealers, for some reason. They always go well on the website. I often wonder if other heroin and crack cocaine traffickers want to read about where the competition is working in the city and the price and purity of the drugs the opposition is selling. Danger drivers, housebreakers and anything involving firearms are also very popular.

What are the situations when there are press restrictions on reporting a case?

It doesn’t often happen except to routinely protect juveniles and alleged victims of sexual assault. There might be a series of linked trials, as with the Huddersfield groomers at Leeds Crown Court. We sometimes apply to lift the restriction on the naming of a youth but it must be a very serious case with a strong public interest. Usually, we know not to bother because we are just setting ourselves up to fail.

Have you ever been threatened by defendants or their families – pressuring you into not reporting the case?

No. The cases I cover are so serious that people expect them to be reported. I don’t do little old ladies up for shoplifting. I try to be very fair with my reports, always looking for something positive to say about the defendant. But our Facebook commentators are not so charitable. There is outrage when I report that someone is a carer for a sick or elderly relative. Our readers don’t see that as any excuse and often point out that the criminal wasn’t at home caring for Gran when he or she was out burgling, mugging or drug dealing. I always include that now when it is said in mitigation just to wind up the detractors.

I try to be very fair with my reports, always looking for something positive to say about the defendant

What is the most horrific case you have worked on – the one which affected you the most?

Probably the man getting a whole life tariff for brutalising and murdering a toddler. But the starving to death of a little boy by his mother, who left his body to mummify in a cot in her home, was also harrowing. 

One of the most memorable was the jailing of the Ripper Hoaxer, John Humble, at Leeds Crown Court in 2006. I well remember the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe in the 1980s and the horror felt in Yorkshire when he kept on killing. It was chilling to hear Humble speak in court because, of course, he sounded just like the infamous Wearside Jack tape recording.

Has the type of crimes committed, or even the nature of defendants changed over the years you have worked at the T&A?

No, I don’t think so. My criminals – or ‘customers’ as I like to think of them – are much the same. Desperate drug addicts become dealers, housebreakers and muggers to fund their habit and young men without a licence or insurance ‘panic’ when they see the police and drive dangerously around Bradford. Sometimes, I run out of ‘intros’ because the cases are so similar. 

The main thing is to be compassionate. I hope I have a reputation for fairness among the local barristers and solicitors. I have walked out of court hearings when I don’t believe the defendant is a ‘real criminal’. It might be a terrified teenager with learning difficulties up for downloading a handful of illegal images. I look at him trembling in the dock, and at the anguished face of his mother in the public gallery, and I go elsewhere for a story. I don’t know what my newsdesk would make of that, but it’s important that I can live with myself.

What do you do when you are not working at Court?

I have a horse called Sprite and a rescue greyhound called Lily. My partner, Steven Wright, is the former crime reporter at the T&A and we worked together on many big cases, including Wearside Jack. He shares my love of horses and he has an ex-steeplechaser called Alexander. 

We are both keen writers. I have recently relaunched Crook Who’s Talking! a series of fictional short stories drawn from my experience working at Bradford Crown Court. They are very authentic because I have included genuine sentencing remarks from the judges and snippets from prosecution and defence barristers. Some of the criminal tales are funny and others darker. I have also published Forking Off! about leaving court reporting to work as a stable hand; The Festive Phantom, a ‘cozy’ collection of children’s stories about a horse detective; and Broken Flight, an adventure story. My books combine my love of horses with my knowledge of the criminal justice system. It’s an odd combination in some ways but at least I know what I am writing about!

Jenny Loweth, thank you for taking time to talk to The Crime Hub.

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