The future is community: how local reporters broke a story that led eight MPs to demand action

This week we broke a story in a way we have never done before.

We worked with an exclusive dataset that one of the members of our 400-strong local reporting network obtained. And then gave it legs.

Because our local reporting community is pretty great at working together, one reporter with one dataset - shout out to Adam Cantwell-Corn - led to eleven leading pieces across the UK.

On Monday, outlets across the country and the Bureau and Guardian jointly revealed that 19,000 British Citizens got swept up in immigration checks over the last five years.

The data showed that one in five people stopped and questioned for immigration crimes in “intelligence-led” operations were British citizens.

The findings led to eight members of parliament from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield - including Afzal Khan, the Shadow Immigration Minister - to call for a review of Home Office practices (you can see their punchy quotes here).

Human rights lawyers have accused the Home Office of racial profiling and demands have been made for the Home Office to provide transparency on why Brits were stopped.

From one to many

Data on the nationalities of those stopped by immigration officers was obtained by Adam Cantwell-Corn from the media cooperative The Bristol Cable, following a seven month Freedom of Information dispute with the Home Office.

This data was not publicly available when the issue was in the spotlight four years ago. In 2013, the Equality and Human Right Commission wrote to the Home Office following complaints of racial profiling by immigration officers at transport hubs. At the time, the claims were dismissed by Mark Harper, the then Minister of State for Immigration, who had insisted that the operations were intelligence based.

The data Cantwell-Corn obtained provided the first publicly available evidence to challenge the previous assertion from the Minister.

But he didn’t keep it to himself.  

Adam shared the data with us at the Bureau who worked with him to analyse the findings and coordinate some local digging. And the sharing of this information led to powerful insights and results.

One reporter in the network was able to speak to James Li, a Brit who had experienced it firsthand when the Chinese takeaway shop he worked in had been raided. James described being “collateral damage.”

Another journalist was able to get ahold of a Brit in Yorkshire who manages an Indian restaurant that was raided in August. The source said immigration officials stopped Asian staff over white staff and that the raid had hurt the business. 

We found 10 other reporters around the country - located in the cities that the data was available for - and over several weeks everyone shared leads, sources, quotes and case studies with each other.

Front page of the Bristol Cable's Autumn 2017 edition
Yorkshire Post piece on immigration checks

The impact of collaboration

Because of the pressure these reporters placed locally, we had 8 MPs speaking out when the story broke.

Public calls for action were made by Afzal Khan MP for Manchester Gorton and Shadow Immigration Minister, Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, Preet Gill, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East.

Additionally, concrete political actions were taken by two other MPs. Labour MP, Gill Furness, from Sheffield - the city with the highest ratio of British citizen stopped - and Thangam Debbonaire, from Bristol both wrote to the Home Secretary urging for a review of Immigration enforcement practices.

The day after the investigation came out, Theresa May announced an audit on the impact of ethnicity on everyday life. An important part of the announcement was the launch of a new website dedicated to the disclosure of ethnicity data on areas like health, education, employment and criminal justice.

While there is yet no pledge or action for data from immigration stops to be included in the audit, further calls have been made by both lawyers and MPs for the Home Office to capture the ethnicity of those they stop to safeguard against discrimination.

Screen shot of the Guardian piece on immigration checks

Accessing the stories and data

Adam said: "Collaborations of this kind have a multiplying effect on the power of investigations. By harnessing dozens of local partners we reach a much wider audience and seed win-win relationships for the future.”

Stories ran in the Bristol Cable, Yorkshire Evening Post, Liverpool EchoOvertake, Ferret, Birmingham EastsideBirmingham Mail and Sheffield Star.

And there is more to come. Further reporting is expected to come out in Newcastle and Cardiff over the coming days.

If you want to take your own look into this story, the FOI which contains data about London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol and Cardiff is available here.

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Main image: Immigration enforcement vans via the Anti Raids Network