Journalist faces disciplinary over agency leak claim

A journalist at The Citizen in Gloucestershire faces disciplinary action after an embarrassing story about the local council that his paper did not publish appeared in the national press.

Last month, it emerged Forest of Dean District Council had used a picture of a paedophile, David Harper, in a visitor guide.

Harper, dressed as the Fat Controller, used to work alongside Thomas the Tank Engine at the Dean Forest Railway, in Lydney, Gloucestershire.

He was jailed in 2007 for eight years after sexually abusing two boys, aged 10 and 12, and hoarding 25,000 child pornography images on his computer.

Despite that, the picture of Harper wagging his finger at Thomas the Tank Engine – taken before his conviction – was still used in the guide.

No story about the use of the picture appeared in daily title The Citizen or its sister weekly The Forester.

But the story did appear last week in, among other titles, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Belfast Telegraph, after it was sent out by a local agency, the South West News Service.

Press Gazette understands that a Citizen journalist who is believed to have given the story to the agency faces disciplinary action today, and could be sacked.

Last year, the Forest of Dean District Council published a tourism supplement, ‘Destination Forest”, through The Forester.

It said it had paid a ‘major contribution”, but is now reviewing whether to repeat the supplement this spring.

‘There is no direct link [between the sponsorship review and the leak],’said a council spokesman.

‘We put a major contribution into Destination Forest… [but] we don’t know yet if the excellent publicity will convert into bookings.

‘We are looking at supporting something in the future.”

The council spokesman added: “We work closely with the paper, we find that works to both our benefit, but that certainly doesn’t prevent it criticising us on the occasions we get it wrong.

‘You only have to look at the letters page to see that.”

Press Gazette contacted The Citizen on Friday and again this morning, but its editor was unavailable for comment.

In the first half of 2008, the Northcliffe-owned Citizen had a circulation of 25,681, according to ABC. The Forester’s circulation was 10,710.

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