Although James would not have known it, that beautiful cloudless Tuesday morning would change his life. Despite having very little reason to do it, he still managed to motivate himself to get up at seven every morning to earn a decent living. For the second time that week he was asking himself why he was driving into work with millions of other rats across the country trying to scrape a living in a job he was not enjoying in the slightest. He idled slowly forwards in the heavy traffic with the radio for company. He thought back to the satisfaction he had when he graduated with a degree in journalism and, no further was he out of his cap and gown, he had managed to get a job at the local newspaper. He really wished he could join the police but was unable to due to a prior medical condition. That was in the past and his graduation was a year ago. Now he had a letter on his computer which spelt out his intention to resign. Its existence was not known to Julie, his girlfriend of six months.
His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the news and he turned up the volume, “The time is eight thirty. An early morning raid on a house in Bradford has revealed a devastating bomb factor that police have said was intended for attacks on high profile targets. Four suspects have been arrested and are due to be charged with terrorism related offences. The police claim they have found video tapes though they will not reveal what is on them. We will update you with further information when we get it.”
The news continued on the subjects of the economy, the on going efforts in the Middle East and the current financial state of the Premier football league. When the weather update was being read, James was turning into the car park of his drab, four floor, sixties built office that was well past its demolition date. He parked his car, walked through the front door and flashed his ID card at the receptionist, a twenty four year old female with short, black hair. She smiled. James returned the gesture and opened the door to the stairwell. Although the building had a lift, he preferred taking the stairs. He used the opportunity to use eight flights of stairs four times a day since he rarely had time to keep fit. The staff were under immense pressure during normal hours and there was an additional Saturday or Sunday shift once a month.
His desk was in an open plan office on the fourth floor. Unfortunately, his view faced the photocopiers rather than a window, even if the view outside was not that much better. James meandered through the maze to get to his desk. He leant down and pressed the button on the out-of-date computer. It tried to valiantly resist but was forced to slowly whir into life. James went to the drinks machine to get is regular cup of coffee to wake him up. There were two other journalists doing the same. When the machine was free, he pressed the numbers into the keypad to get a reasonably tasting strong cappuccino.
He returned to his desk and saw the Windows 2000 icon on the screen. He pressed CTRL+ALT and delete to log on. He then took a mouthful of coffee while the various icons started to appear on the screen. It took a further two minutes before he could open his inbox. One message had a red exclamation mark and a paper clip next to it: the daily editorial meeting. A second circulation message had a couple of jokes. A third had been forwarded by Peter, the editor, with ‘Little boy hurt on playground swing’ as the subject heading. He clicked on it and the email opened. The first message was from Peter telling James to contact and interview the lady in question. Below it was the letter:
I am writing to you to draw your attention to the state of children’s playground facilities.
At the weekend I was with my four year old son. I was pushing him on the swing with the safety. To my horror, one of the chains attached to the frame unexpectedly broke free and my son hit his head on the concrete resulting in a visit to the hospital.
I am considering taking legal action against the Council to ensure that children can play safely in our parks with being in danger of getting hurt.
James picked up the phone and dialled the number in the email. He let the phone ring. When the answer machine turned on he left a message. James knew this was a story that needed to be on the front page, but what would Peter’s decision be? He would find out because the meeting would be in five minutes at nine thirty. James re-opened the email and printed the attachment. He finished his coffee, locked the computer and picked up his notepad and pen, with the emphasis on the word ‘his’ because he had bought his stationary out of his own pocket. The staff had been notified three months previously they would have start buying their own out of their own pocket to cut down on costs. He passed the printer, picked up the meeting details and expertly dropped the empty cup into the recycling bin next to the drinks machine.
The meeting room overlooked the front car park. It contained a long table with enough spaces for twelve and a projector was fixed to the ceiling that pointed to the screen at one end of the room. When James opened the door, he was not the first. Andrew, the sports editor, was already sitting down with his notepad on the table drumming his biro top against the edge of the table and held a cup of something to his mouth at the same time.
“Busy?” Andrew enquired.
“Yeah,” James replied.
Andrew sensed the tone in Andrew’s voice, “Whats up?”
“Oh, nothing.” James tried not to give away his feelings too much, “you busy?”
Before Andrew could answer Peter, who was in his fifties, slightly overweight and possessed a receding hairline that was turning grey, walked in and sat down at the end of the table. The other reporters and staff walked in after him. James quickly sat down next to Andrew before all the seats were taken.
Peter started, “Good morning everyone. I presume you have all read the agenda for this meeting?” There were nods and other affirmative responses. Peter continued, “Starting with tomorrow’s front page. I have decided to go with the council’s decision to allow a new superstore to be built. In the current economic climate we know how important this decision is for local jobs. They have agreed to council demands to provide money for local community projects. This was in response to objections raised by local residents at the recent meeting. Tom, how is the article?”
“I should have it ready for you by lunch time,” Tom replied.
James objected, “What about the little boy who was hurt while playing on the swing?” James had developed a reputation among the reporters that he made his opinions known. Despite now being the centre of attention he did not feel intimidated, “I read the email you sent to me. Isn’t this important enough to be put on the front page? Shouldn’t parents be told about the danger the equipment poses. Surely, we should be putting pressure on the Council?”
Peter replied with a hint of annoyance in his reply, “I do agree with you. I would like you to interview Mrs Smith and get the full details but it won’t be put on the front page.”
“I have left an answer message on her phone.”
“Good. Moving on to crime Sarah is attending an initiative this morning on knife violence given by our Police Chief at one of the local schools. Knife crime in this area has been rising over the last twelve months and this story will be put on the second page. Andrew, do we have anything for the back page?”
“There is a league one fixture tonight. The report will include a couple of photos.”
It was at this point James tended to listen to the meeting with one ear. The midweek paper did not really amount to much in terms of stories since most of it was taken up by advertising. He spent most of his thoughts on how the Mrs Smith would feel that her story would not appear on the front page. She had James’ sympathy. The minute hand moved round the clock for what seemed like an eternity and mind wandered back to the resignation letter.
It was close to quarter past ten when James saw Bethany, a petite blonde with a pony tail, peer through the glass with an expression on her face that seemed to suggest urgency. James got Peters attention and then pointed at Bethany.
Peter motioned for her to go in, “Yes?” He sounded slightly annoyed at the intrusion.
Bethany opened the door, “Sorry for the interruption. The BBC News has reported that a robbery has just taken place on the Grove Industrial Estate and one of the guards has been killed. He was in his forties with one child.” The Grove estate was a one mile square area ten miles down the road containing small business units and warehouses.
“Thanks Bethany,” Peter replied thoughtfully, “James?”
“Since Sarah is covering the knife crime initiative and there is no one else to cover it, you will have to. See what you can find out. You need to confirm a guard has been shot dead and find out the basic details. The best place to start is the police station and they may provide you with details of the widows’ lawyer or whoever her spokesperson might be. This story is going on the front page. The evening newspapers will make it their priority as the nationals will do in the morning. We can’t afford to miss out.
“Stuart,” who was one of the resident photographers, “I need you to go to the warehouse and get some shots.”
“Certainly,” Stuart was already on the way out.”
“I will need to go as well,” James replied, “to see what I can find out.”
“It would be better if you stayed because then you can work on the playground accident story as well. The robbery must take priority. I need six hundred words by four o’clock for the front page.
“Any other business?” There was a long pause, “Ok. The meeting is over.” Everyone returned to their desks. James suspected that quality journalism was not a priority on Peters’ list but cutting corners and reducing costs were. Was he expected to write stories without actually attending the scene of crime or talking to witnesses? Was he expected to use his imagination? What James had learnt on his degree was not being done in practice.
He found a telephone message from Mrs Smith on his desk. He picked it up and read it. She was going to see her lawyer and wouldn’t be home again probably for another two hours. She would contact James when she returned. He put the message in one of the trays next to his monitor and turned his attention to the robbery. He looked at the BBC, Sky News, ITV and Channel 4 websites to find out some information about the robbery. They all confirmed that a 42 year old security guard who was married with an eight year old was shot dead during the robbery. He wrote down any notes that would help to write the story. He found the security company on the internet and wrote down the number of the head office as well as the number of the local police station to find out who was speaking on behalf of the widow. He was told the name of the lawyer and the number. He made a phone call to all three to try and get any information but was left frustrated. The only thing he could was to return to the news websites to find out anything he could. He knew it was hardly the best way to write a news article but he was left with no choice.
He looked at his watch. It was close to midday. He did not normally have an early lunch but decided to make an exception. He always had an hour for lunch regardless of how busy he was. Peter was continuing to put pressure on the staff to reduce their lunch breaks but James was having none of it. His mind wandered back to the letter.
In another part of the country, a female detective was sitting at her desk looking at some evidence of notes concerning an on-going rape investigation when she received a knock on the door.
In a tired voice she said, “Come in.” She looked up.
“Have you heard the news yet?”
Her reply sounded like indifference, “No. What’s happened?”
“A robbery has taken place on the Grove Industrial Estate.”
Her face changed, “Seriously?”
“Yeah, and a security guard has been shot dead. He was married with a kid.”
“Oh God,” She put the pen on the desk, “When?”
He spent fifteen minutes telling her what he knew.
“Okay, thanks.” Her colleague left and shut the door. She breathed a heavy sigh and rested her forehead in her palms. All her fears had come true and her warnings had been ignored. She was angry. All her investigations had been ignored despite the appeals. Why were they so intent on not allowing her to get on with her investigations? After the fact, all those higher up would no doubt put it down to incompetence but, damn it, an innocent man had been killed leaving a widow and a young kid.
A feeling of sickness started to well up in her stomach. She decided she needed a drink and took two cupfuls from the water fountain. She decided to go to her superior. She knocked on the door and heard the deep, male voice telling her to go in.
“Heard the news?”
He sensed the tone of her voice, “Not feeling too good about the whole situation?”
“No sir. I’m not feeling too great. A bit sick actually. I was wondering whether I could have the rest of the afternoon off sir, as sick leave?”
“Yes you can, but it wasn’t your fault. Don’t blame yourself for what happened. There has been a massive screw up somewhere.”
She tried to smile, “Thank you, sir.”
She decided to return to her desk until one o’clock keeping updated on any immediate developments on the robbery. As soon as one clock came around, she started her lunch break and immediately walked to the car park. She got into her car and stayed for a few moments. When she first heard the news she was shocked but the sickness inside her had diminished. After feeling sure she could drive, she put the key into the ignition and turned it. Now she was completely consumed by what happened that morning and it took all of her concentration to drive the ten miles home.
She closed the front door behind her, put her bags on the kitchen table and went to the sink to splash some water on her face. Despite being hungry she did not feel like eating. She went upstairs to her bedroom and immediately fell asleep.
James looked at his inbox. Various other stories had come through that needed following up but did not have time to deal with them with the robbery taking priority. One of the emails included an email from Mrs Smith telling him she was intending to sue the council for negligence and compensation. He decided it was time for another cappuccino and returned to the coffee machine.
All these other stories were not worth thinking about for the rest of the afternoon. The police officer he spoke to on the phone claimed he could not provide much information to the journalists. He asked when they could provide something more substantial? The answer he received was not to hi satisfaction but what could he do? He thanked the officer for his time and put the phone down. It was beginning to look like he did not have much for the front page. Would he get the story written in time? The only thing he could do was to re-write the information already being reported in the national mainstream media. It was not until after one thirty that James found out the police were going to hold a press conference and providing a document confirming what they thought happened before, during and after the robbery.
James re-read the article and checked it before emailing the story to Peter ten minutes before five o’clock
The police have launched a murder enquiry after a security guard was killed yesterday while attempting to stop a robbery at the security warehouse on the Grove Industrial Estate.
The depot was the target of one of Britain’s largest ever cash robberies with an estimated £60million worth of used and virtually untraceable notes being stolen. The police have no knowledge of who might have been behind the robbery. They fear the money will not be recovered.
The police took witness statements from all the employees at the depot and they have established the robbery started at about 8:30am when the shift changed but the alarm was not raised until about 9:20am. Although the police have said it was highly organised and have not yet ruled out inside knowledge, none of the employees have admitted to playing any role in the robbery and have been unable to provide any information that could lead to the identity or the current location of the robbers. The police are appealing for witnesses to come forward with any information that could lead to the arrest of those responsible. A reward of £250,000 has been offered by the security company for information that could lead to the arrest of the person responsible for the death of the employee.
Neil Johnson, aged 46 and married with one child, was an active member of the community. He had been working at the depot for only a week when he was killed. Rachel Johnson has been too distraught to speak on the loss of her husband. Her lawyer read a statement outside the family home in which they thanked everyone for their messages of sympathy and condolences. The death has been a shock to the local community.”
James re-read the story and checked it before emailing the story to Peter ten minutes before five o’clock. Five minutes later Peter replied thanking him. James turned off his computer, picked up his bag and walked out to the car. He sent Julie a text message telling her he was about to leave the office.
James got into the car and turned on the radio. He was in time to hear the news. The first time was an update on the robbery. The second item was an update on the foiled attack in Bradford. He was so busy all day he had forgotten all about it.
“The Home Secretary has said today the terrorist threat in the United Kingdom continues to be a real and present threat and that everyone must continue to be vigilant. Bringing back memories of the London bombing in 2005, she has also said it justifies the continued use of anti-terror laws and the introduction of the national ID scheme as well as the controversial DNA database, a policy opposed by civil liberty groups as a continued step towards a big brother surveillance society. The Government continues to deny the UK is now a police state despite the laws that have been gradually introduced.
“Those leading the investigation into the plot have revealed the discovered tapes had recorded martyrdom messages on them. We have been told the alleged suspects appear on the tapes stating they continue to oppose the foreign policy of the United Kingdom in Afghanistan though they say the intended withdrawal of troops from Iraq is a step in the right direction. They claim the real motive behind the illegal invasions of the two countries was to plunder the natural resources of Central Asia. A motive strenuously denied by both the US and UK Governments, despite evidence to the contrary.”
James continued listening to the radio and watched the road ahead. He slowed down when the traffic lights at the junction turned to red. He thought about the claims that Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded for natural resources. He wasn’t very old when nine-eleven happened. He was not interested in such things at the time, accepted what he was told and got on with his life. One question that needed asking is why the Bush Administration tried to link the attack with Iraq even though most of the alleged hijackers were Saudi. It was only when he was going through University did he appreciate the convenience of it all. How could a Government wage on ‘terror’, an abstract concept? How did they decide when this war would end or who the enemy was? He turned his attention away from such questions back to the driving when the lights changed back to green.
When James opened the front door he found that Julie, his girlfriend of two years, was already home.
He kissed her, “Hello.”
“I will tell you after I’ve had a shower.”
He walked upstairs and straight into the bathroom. James let the hot droplets give his body a furious massage and he slowly ran his fingers up his face and through his hair. He wondered what he was going to do about his job. Peter seemed to treat the newspaper purely as a business for making rather than letting the staff do their jobs. He accepted that newspapers had to make money but Peter was not doing his job properly in making sure the reporters were finding accurate and reliable information. James was becoming increasingly stressed out and it wasn’t doing him any good. He was even beginning to think it might affect his relationship with Julie. He picked up the shower gel off the shelf and rubbed some of the contents into his hair. He wanted to be a proper journalist, be given the chance to build relationships in the community, chase up important leads for stories and to ensure confidentiality with trusted sources. That is what journalism was meant to be about, or so he thought. He turned off the shower and stepped out of the cubicle. He grabbed the towel, dried himself off and put his dressing gown on. He got dressed and then went down stairs.
“How are you?” Julie enquired while stirring a pot of sauce.
“Tired but the shower woke me up a bit. I suppose you heard about the robbery this morning?”
“Yeah, I did. A guard got killed. Is that right?”
“Unfortunately, yes. A father with a young child. I had to write a piece for tomorrow’s front page.”
“I’ll dish up.”
“I’ll pour the wine. I need it.”
Half an hour later they had finished, washed up and filled the dishwasher. Julie re-filled the glasses while James put a CD in the hi-fi. Julie sat down and picked up her wedding magazine off the coffee table and flicked through it.
The detective was briefly disorientated and woke up wondering why she was at home laying on her bed. It did not take long for her to remember what happened and the feelings came rushing back. Her bed side clock said three thirty. After having a shower to wake herself up she went downstairs, made a strong cup of coffee and had something to eat. She was feeling better and now she had the rest of the afternoon and evening to turn her thoughts to writing her letter. She had so much information she did not know where to start.
The detective knew she had to start at the beginning and write down everything she could remember, going back six months of investigations and evidence. It had been a long and slow process that afternoon. She had written eight pages of notes that needed to be organised and expanded, careful not to reveal highly sensitive information.
She had been working all afternoon and knew she was putting her job on the line. An innocent person had died during a crime that should have been prevented. She had drunk a few cups of coffee by the time she had finished an acceptable draft but now she had to go through each line to ensure it was clear and concise. She was mentally exhausted and decided to leave it until the following night before reading it again.