A local news journalist has said her paper’s commitment to attending the trials of a man described as the UK’s most prolific rapist over many months breaks the “tired narrative about the demise of local journalism”.
Manchester Evening News reporter Beth Abbit sat through three of the four trials in which Reynhard Sinaga faced multiple charges of sex offences, but was unable to write about them owing to reporting restrictions.
It was only when Sinaga (pictured) was sentenced to life in prison this month, having being found guilty of 159 counts of sexual offences against 48 men, including rape, that journalists could finally report on the case.
Abbit has revealed that MEN, part of Reach, has had more than 900,000 page views across all of its stories about the case and said this shows readers value in-depth journalism.
She first found out about the scale of the crimes in July 2018 after Sinaga’s first trial, attending the sentencing hearing and buying court transcripts to catch up on what she had missed before sitting through the subsequent three trials.
Sinaga’s trials were split into four because of the sheer number of the 36-year-old’s victims, with reporting restrictions in place to avoid news reports prejudicing later trials.
The courts heard how he would convince men to go to his flat in Manchester city centre under false pretences where he would spike their drinks and then rape and sexually assault them while they were unconscious.
Abbit spoke to detectives in the case to gain an insight into the police investigation and gathered all the information she could about Sinaga while also working shifts in the newsroom rota and covering other stories.
She told Press Gazette: “As soon as I told my editor Sarah Lester about Sinaga she knew it was an unprecedented case that we would need to dedicate a lot of time to.
“I’m really lucky to have bosses that recognised it as such and allowed me the time to cover these trials, sitting in court day after day, even though they knew they would have to wait more than a year before they could publish anything.”
Abbit said the MEN did not challenge reporting restrictions, despite often doing so in the interests of open justice, saying: “It seemed clear to us that in this case, the welfare of the victims was paramount.”
She added: “There was never any suggestion that restrictions would remain in place indefinitely. We always knew we would be able to tell the story and we wanted to tell it the best way we could – always putting the victims first.
“All that was required was diligence and patience.”
She went on: “There has been a somewhat tired narrative about the demise of local journalism. Yet my bosses recognised this as such an important and historic case that they allowed me to sit in court day after day, even though they knew we wouldn’t be able to publish anything for months.
“We have a thriving newsroom and a website with a massive reach as well as a daily paper. We had a duty to report Sinaga’s offending as clearly and as thoroughly as we could. We had a duty to behave in a way that put the victims first.”
The reporter said the most difficult part of covering the trials was hearing live evidence from Sinaga’s victims.
“Each of these men displayed incredible courage in court,” she said. “Some were screened off from Sinaga, but almost as many weren’t. It must have been incredibly difficult for them.”
The press bench and public gallery were shielded from seeing Sinaga’s graphic footage of his victims, which court staff ensured only the jury could see. They were subsequently offered counselling.
Abbit used to cover court on a daily basis and said she has “sat through a lot of shocking cases, but nothing as unusual as this”.
She added: “The sheer scale of Sinaga’s offending, his total lack of remorse and the way in which he carried out his crimes is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Picture: Greater Manchester Police