You Can't Libel the Dead

Standing on the Derbyshire moors as a blizzard rages, a young reporter is about to cover the biggest story of his life - the infamous Pottery Cottage Murders.

A newspaper editor comes face to face with a city's most notorious armed robber...who is offering to strike a deal that will blow two major court cases apart.

A senior publishing executive flies to Pakistan to plead for the release of a terrified British reporter, who has been locked in a flea-ridden jail surrounded by murderers and thugs, on suspicion of being a spy.

These are three of the key moments from my career in journalism, which I recount in detail in my memoir You Can't Libel the Dead.

The book lifts the lid on the life and professional challenges of a newspaper editor, from the decision to unmask a popular priest as a serial paedophile, to fiery confrontations with household-name football managers.

But alongside the dramatic moments and the exclusives, the book is full of funny stories and a cavalcade of colourful characters I've encountered in close to 50 years as a journalist. Here's an extract from Chapter One...

Bloodstains in the snow


It was around 1 o’clock in the morning when I stumbled downstairs to answer the phone, half asleep and half cut, after a few Friday night pints with my dad. News editor David Mastin apologised for getting me out of bed. It might be something or nothing, he said, but one of our photographers had called in to say he had been driving home from a night out when he spotted a big police presence outside The Highwayman pub, high on the moors between Chesterfield and Baslow. Could I nip out there and take a look? And, by the way, are you OK to drive? I answered yes to both questions.


Recently qualified as a senior reporter on my hometown paper, The Star, I was pleased that, from a pool of around 20 reporters, it was me that Mastin had called. Or maybe his first choices just decided to let the phone ring. No matter. On a bitterly cold January night, I pulled on my duffle coat and scarf, jumped into my VW Beetle and headed for the hills.


When I pulled into The Highwayman car park an hour later, a blizzard was raging. There were arc lights and a police mobile incident room in the pub car park - sure signs that something big was going on. Two journalists had got there before me: Martyn Sharpe, of The Sun, and the Daily Express’s legendary North of England reporter Peggy Robinson. I knew both of them by reputation. Neither of them knew me from Adam. We chatted guardedly for a few minutes, trying to glean snippets of information from each other. The two experienced national reporters were giving nothing away, and I had nothing to give.


Then Derbyshire’s assistant chief constable stepped out of the incident room. A man of his rank on top of the moors, in a blizzard, in the early hours, on a Saturday? Another sign that something big was happening. He walked over to us but, apart from a few pleasantries, he wasn’t saying much either.


After a minute or two of awkward small talk, Robinson asked how ‘Mrs Maron” was. The ACC corrected her – the name was Moran, and he spelled it out. The three of us scribbled it into our notebooks. A bit more sparring and then Robinson asked, casually: ‘How many bodies are there?’ Yes, this was definitely big.