Geater on Geater

PG: So Paul, tell me a little about your career and your experience in reporting on council matters?

Paul Geater: I started writing for the Evening Star in 1982 as a junior reporter.

During my career I’ve also worked elsewhere in Suffolk – but I’ve been writing for the Star on politics since the 1992 general election.

PG: How long have you been covering the county council?

Paul Geater: Since 1994, although there was a short break a few years ago when I took a role on the newsdesk. I returned to council reporting in 2009.

PG: Have you ever been told that the council would not comment for you before?

Paul Geater: Not like this. I have sometimes been told things that are confidential and when you go to a council spokesman you are told they cannot comment on that specific item.

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PG: But this was different?

Paul Geater: Yes. I was told that whatever I asked from the council press office I would be told “no comment” and that it was a ban that was personal to me.

It was something that seared instantly on my mind – and I made a full note of the conversation I had with the press officer Andrew St Ledger.

PG: What provoked this?

Paul Geater: It was the story we had printed that day about the amount of money – some �12,000 – that had been spent on 23 coaching courses on “change” for chief executive Andrea Hill.

PG: But then the council denied they had banned officials from speaking to you?

Paul Geater: That caused me great irritation and anger – the statements from the director of communications Simon Higgins and council leader Jeremy Pembroke seemed to imply that I, and the Evening Star, had made the whole thing up which was not true.

PG: What happened then?

Paul Geater: It has been difficult because when dealing with council press officers you need to develop a certain relationship. It is difficult to have anything other than a very basic relationship with a body that you feel has questioned your professional integrity.

PG: So what did your editor do?

Paul Geater: He wrote to council leader Jeremy Pembroke and gave him the opportunity to see me and to talk through the ban and the muddle the communications team had got itself in and its denial of the truth.

PG: So has there been an apology?

Paul Geater: No and that’s such a shame. You can make mistakes in life – and this one was a pretty big howler.

If they had said sorry we could have moved on.

But this has questioned my professional integrity and there are those who say I should seek legal redress. I have been told that they were at no time questioning the accuracy of my story about having the “no comment” statement given to me.

I have also been told that Simon Higgins’ statement that there was “no order to issue ‘no comment’ to all enquiries” is correct.

The inference I take from this is that someone in the communications team panicked when the story about the coach appeared and the call was made to me without reference as far up the line of command as it should have gone.

I had suspected this was a case of panic from the very start – but it would have made life a lot easier if they had accepted it in the first place.

PG: We’ve heard Jeremy Pembroke didn’t want to see you. Have you heard anything from chief executive Andrea Hill?

Paul Geater: I did meet her for a fairly quick coffee after the last council meeting. She explained that there had been no order for the “no comment” statement – but there was no apology.

PG: So how are things with the county council now?

Paul Geater: They are answering my questions, but I don’t feel the relationship with the county can ever be the same while they haven’t the decency to apologise so we can move on. I still want a public acceptance from county that the Evening Star reports on my being given the “no comment” statement were accurate – but I suspect I may have a long wait for that.