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May 27, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:20am

Local journalist forced to flee home with young daughter says she will carry on reporting

By Charlotte Tobitt

A local news journalist has been forced to leave her home because of threats made towards her and her five-year-old daughter.

Amy Fenton (pictured), chief reporter at daily newspaper The Mail in Barrow, has been targeted by more than 100 threats and abusive messages in the past week.

The 35-year-old revealed on social media that she had been put under police protection as a result.

Fenton told Press Gazette today: “The main thing that’s bothered me and affected me is the impact and the involvement of my little girl. She’s only five. I’ve had to uproot her from her home.

“There have been people making threats about her and identifying her and where she lives, which is beyond unacceptable.

“Aside from me being committed to my job and proud of the job that I do, it’s not fair for her to be involved or impacted in any of this to the extent that I have to make a decision as to whether or not it’s safe for her to go back to school in a week or two.”

There has been an uprising of anger in the area after claims surfaced online that a woman had been abused by an Asian grooming gang.

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Cumbria Police said they have conducted a year-long investigation and found “no evidence” of an Asian grooming gang operating in Barrow.

A woman has also been charged with seven counts of perverting the course of justice over false allegations of rape.

‘We need to get you out of there’

Most of The Mail’s journalists, including an apprentice, have received abuse in the past week.

But Fenton has been the worst hit as locals and followers of EDL founder Tommy Robinson – who attended a rally in Barrow on Monday – have put pressure on reporters over the case.

She said: “It’s just unprecedented – everyone I’ve spoken to, journalists and police and everyone else, have said it’s just so unprecedented they’ve never seen anything quite like it.

“And I think the police are in a difficult position because they have to manage how they respond to all of this without making it worse. I just hope it starts to calm down soon.”

Fenton said that although the police have to balance freedom of speech with protecting individuals from threats of harm, the “vast majority of this goes beyond freedom of speech”.

“Threatening to slit my throat, threatening to burn me isn’t freedom of speech,” she said.

Over the weekend police drove by Fenton’s house regularly to provide added protection.

But when a colleague reported another threat against her late on Sunday evening, police told Fenton: “We’ve reassessed the risk and we do believe your life is in danger now. We need to get you out of there.”

She still does not know when she will be able to return home.

‘I don’t want to be seen as a victim’

A police spokesperson told Press Gazette: “Cumbria Police can confirm that they have currently eight crimes recorded in relation to threats towards a 35 year old woman in the Barrow area.

“We currently have high visibility patrols in the Barrow area and anyone who has received threats will be included in the local patrol plans.”

A petition calling for Fenton to be sacked received more than 1,000 signatures but was taken down last night after she reported it and the company agreed it contravened their bullying policy.

Fenton said she would not have been targeted in such a way if she were a man. She said: “I don’t want to be seen as a victim, I don’t want people to think I’m hiding away and I’m terrified of being me and doing my job.

“I’m carrying on working and I will continue to work. My bosses and my employers have been brilliant at supporting me and making sure I’m safe.”

Vanessa Sims, editor of The Mail, told Press Gazette a gang of about 12 men gathered outside The Mail’s offices in Barrow on Friday after attempting to entice Fenton there for a meeting.

They shouted that her refusal to show up was “proof we were in the police’s pockets and were lying and trying to cover it up and had our own agenda” and streamed the incident on Facebook Live.

The next day someone tried to arrange a similar meeting with Sims by claiming they were a victim of sexual abuse who wanted to talk. She refused out of suspicion and the woman immediately began sending abuse.

‘We have the full backing of our bosses’

The editor said it had been “alarming” to see how quickly the abuse “started to spiral and for the tone to sink as low as it did” on social media.

“It very much feels like there’s this social media bandwagon and if you’re not on the bandwagon with them you’re going to be the next person to have the finger pointed at you,” Sims added.

She said Barrow is a small place where everyone knows each other so it doesn’t take long for social media posts to be seen by the whole community.

She added that she has concerns the negative impact of the social media abuse could deter potential advertisers.

But some readers had sent messages that they “appreciate the balanced approach you’ve taken to it and we support you”, which Sims said had helped the team recover from what happened – as have messages of support from other journalists across the industry.

She added: “We have the full backing of our bosses [at Newsquest], which I think is important when you feel like you’re facing down the barrel of a gun.”

The National Union of Journalists, of which Fenton is a member, today published a statement in support of her saying she had “followed basic journalistic standards on reporting allegations and court proceedings”.

NUJ northern regional organiser Chris Morley said: “The local newspaper she works for is an essential part of the local community.

“It is not expected that everyone should agree with all opinions or news reports, but what is expected is that journalists’ safety, wellbeing and the life of their family should never be threatened.”

Picture: Amy Fenton

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