Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Honey bees and child abuse

Today's filming began on a 14th century country estate and ended on a 1970s council estate.

Phil and I drove from our hotel to Tregothnan near Truro, where the country's most expensive honey is produced. It's the first manuka honey to be made outside New Zealand and it costs £55 for a little jar.

The people at Tregothnan are very nice. Whilst we were waiting for our chaperone, we were allowed to take over part of the estate office and set up our edit "suite". Eventually we were led to the manuka bushes and hives. The manuka blossom was out (a stroke of luck as it only flowers for 6 weeks a year) and the bees were being transferred into a new 6 foot tall designer hive (below).

Unfortunately there was only one spare protective suit. Phil got it whilst he went in close on the hives. I kept a safe distance until it was my turn to interview the bee-keeper, a young, knowledgeable lad called Will. Having started getting what we needed the phone went.

"Finish filming and get to Plymouth now. A nursery teacher has been arrested for distributing indecent images of children" said the boss.

"Fine," I said, "but we haven't finished here - there's not enough in the can for a package."

"Okay, call you back in two." he said. Two minutes later: "You've got an hour, then get to Plymouth." said the boss.

An hour later we were charging towards Plymouth, liaising with Sky's Bristol-based reporter Katie Stallard. She was up on all the phone calls - demanding interviews from the police, council and chasing up a contact who might be one of the mums with children at the nursery.

She was also on to Ofsted, finding out if they were satisfied the staff at the nursery we went to had been properly CRB checked. When we arrived Phil leapt out and started filming. Crews and satellite trucks were starting to arrive. I was down for a live, but it soon became apparent we had enough for a package.

Parents of toddlers were hanging round the nursery (and the school attached to it) demanding to know what was going on, and they were very angry.

Katie arrived and we found ourselves with a sat truck, a live camera and 2 ENG (roving) crews. I was told to film a piece to camera, write a script and send track and rushes to base at 4pm whilst Katie did some newsgathering.

Then she would hog the transmission path for lives whilst I went and found out what I could. It all worked very smoothly. The strength of feeling from the parents made their voxes very powerful, the piece to camera was visually and verbally informative and had a line that I had got out of the police about exactly where they suspected the alleged crimes may have been committed which I think had eluded the other outlets.

I filed the script on a live line to base in one take. Whilst Katie was doing her live I used the truck's P2 flash drive recorder to view and choose the two best voxes and called my producer Laura as she sat in the edit suite putting the piece together in London.

As Five News was going out I got in a Sky cameraman's car as Katie was attached to more lives. We had been given the name and address of the suspect by a snapper, and we were also looking for the location of a community meeting which was supposedly going to be held by police to give worried parents more information.

Katie had heard it might start around 7pm and one parent had told me it might be at a church hall, but she hadn't heard which one, so I googled nearby church halls and we drove off in search of the right one. We drove round for a bit and then I got out of the van to have a chat with a young woman who told me she didn't know anything about a meeting but the police often held community briefings at a nearby church. We drove straight round and saw the vicar getting out of his car. I asked if he was holding the community meeting at his church.

"We might well be but you'll have to ask the police about it." he said.

I asked him what time it would start. He said he didn't know. I ran back to the van and said we had the venue. Just then the police turned up and we got a shot of the police and the vicar opening up the church.

The police, who'd refused to give us the venue location all day realised the game was up and I asked the most senior-looking copper if the meeting started at 7pm - he confirmed that it did. I called the Sky newsdesk immediately as this gave us a new line (confirmation of the residents' meeting, its time and location) for their 6pm live and a new location for both our 7pm lives.

The sky cameraman drove the pictures back to the sat truck and we then went off in search of the suspect's house, which was pretty easy with a road name, although one of the local newspaper journalists annoyed me by refusing to confirm to me the exact address of the suspect's house when we were virtually on her doorstep.

Oh how happy I was when she came running up to me 5 minutes later asking if I knew anything about a public meeting which her newsdesk had heard about after watching Sky. I said she had better contact the police.

We got some shots of the suspect's house, drove back to the church and started preparing for the live. Because the police had asked parents to bring photo id with them to the meeting, when the doors opened at 7pm it took them ages to get into the church.

As a result we had a great backdrop of a queue of angry and very concerned parents waiting to find out exactly what had happened to their children - much better than the other outlets who were still stuck down the hill outside the nursery.

I'm sorry if any of the above sounds glib or flippant - I am aware that any story about child abuse will be sickening and appalling for those caught up in it. I made it my business to respectfully approach all the parents - and was treated equally politely.

My live was at 7.10pm. Katie Stallard was top story on the sky.com the 7pm prog which tends to go for shorter lives. As we were sharing a satellite path, it meant as soon as she finished I had to grab her mike and audio comms whilst Sky switched us over to the Five gallery.

I had to give them audio level, then audio level on camera to check sync. By this time my piece was going out so I had about 30s to get the position right and double check whether or not I was picking up straight off my piece or being asked a question. It all worked fine.

As soon as we were done I got in Phil's car and he drove me to the station, before we parted he gave me his precious P2 card with the bees rushes on it. I bought a ticket, got a horrible sausage sandwich from the Spar and sat in a daze all the way back to Reading.

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