Nick Anning: investigative journalist and expert of Russian affairs - Press Gazette

Nick Anning: investigative journalist and expert of Russian affairs

The journalist Nick Anning, who has died aged 61 after a short illness, saw investigative journalism, both in Britain and in the former Soviet Union, as a way of exposing official malpractice and injustice.

In the Eighties and Nineties, he worked as a producer and researcher on programmes for the BBC’s Panorama and Horizon, Channel 4’s Dispatches, and the Discovery Channel. His knowledge of the Russian language and the Soviet Union led him into work on the Russian mafia, and he was one of the first to chart Chechen organised crime, in the 1989 documentary Moscow’s Mafia Millions.

One of his most extensive investigations through the Nineties concerned the sinking of the Hull trawler Gaul in 1974. He was part of the team that won a Royal Television Society award for The Secrets Of The Gaul.

He was also involved in a precedent-setting case in 1998, when he and colleagues published on the internet the internal findings of Nottingham city council’s investigation into allegations of satanic abuse. When the council failed to force the deletion of the report from websites around the world it conceded defeat; the incident sparked a debate on cyber-law which continues today.

Techno-Bandits, How The Soviets Are Stealing America’s High-Tech Future (1984), which he co-wrote with Linda Melvern and David Hebditch, became a standard in its field. With Hebditch he also wrote Porn Gold (1988), an examination of pornography’s business side.

Born in Glasgow, he grew up after the war, in the Hampshire village of Bursledon, where he acquired a lifelong fascination for the countryside. Moving with his family to Manchester, aged 11, after Burnage grammar school he read German and Russian at Leeds University.

As a schoolboy, he taught himself the guitar by listening to records by Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers, and as a student played lead guitar with the Other Four. He was an outstanding self-taught guitarist. Barry Jones, a fellow band member, said Nick could listen to a Chet Baker track just twice and then reproduce it note-perfect.

After graduating, and while working on his PhD thesis on Boris Pasternak, he was appointed to a lectureship at Nottingham University. He then become a lecturer in Soviet literature at London University’s School of Slavonic and Eastern European studies.

It was in London that he shifted from academia to journalism, motivated in part by the radical politics of the Seventies, in which he was personally involved through the Brixton squatters’ movement. He contributed, with others, such as Heathcote Williams and Piers Corbyn, to Squatting: The Real Story (1980).

His journalistic range was broad, from reviewing Russian literature for the Times Literary Supplement to dogged investigations on intelligence-gathering and Northern Ireland for publications such as the New Statesman, Time Out, the New Scientist and The Sunday Times, where he worked with the Insight team. He was one of the founders of the Leveller, the radical magazine launched in that period which specialised in exposés of official secrets.

Outside his working life, cricket – he was a club-standard player – and the guitar were passions. For almost 20 years he was a regular in the New Statesman cricket team, turning out every weekend and touring with it in Somerset every July. The sight of Nick taking off his sweater to open the bowling was one that opposition teams rightly dreaded.

Although he lived most of his life in London, he never lost his dry, somewhat enigmatic, northern sense of humour. But he could be equally lyrical whether talking about Somerset bird life, the guitar work of Cliff Gallup and Albert Lee, Manchester United’s midfield, or a trip down the Volga.

His personal life, as he would have been the first to admit, was never exactly simple. There were many relationships over the years but he was always immensely proud of his children: Vicky and Simon, by his first wife, Angela; and Louise, his daughter by his former long-term partner, Jill. All survive him.

He had composed music for Vicky’s wedding this summer.

He is also survived by his parents, Frank and May, by his younger sister, Lindsey, as well as by his ex-wife, Natasha, and his girlfriend, Jackie Krendel.

Duncan Campbell, The Guardian