A community reporter has described how local people have pulled together in the wake of a schoolgirl’s killing.
Tom Bedworth, who works for the Warrington Guardian, was the first of his team to find out about the stabbing of Birchwood teenager Brianna Ghey in a park in Culcheth.
The 21-year-old, who covers Culcheth and Birchwood in his role as part of the Community News Project, was first alerted to the fatal attack on 16-year-old Brianna thanks to his local connections.
He said: “On the Saturday afternoon, I got a message from someone in Culcheth who I had never met before but they knew who I was from community Facebook groups.
“She messaged me to say that someone had been killed in Linear Park. My first reaction was that stuff like that never happens in Culcheth. I immediately sent it to the work’s WhatsApp group and the police confirmed it.
“On the Sunday, they announced it was a teenage girl and they named her in the afternoon.”
In Tom’s role, he covered the community impact of Brianna’s death by pulling together tributes and attending organised vigils in honour of Brianna. During one vigil, he managed to get quotes from Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester.
He also made the decision to write a piece from his perspective as a community reporter for the area affected by the tragedy.
He wrote: “Over the 11 months I’ve been getting to know the area, it has struck me how welcoming, warm, friendly and considerate the people of Culcheth have been towards me, and toward one another.
“That’s why, when I first caught word from a member of the public that a body had been found in Culcheth, I was in a state of disbelief.”
He said about his first-person piece: “It was a fine line to get that balance right because I didn’t want people to think that I was just joining on the bandwagon but I am the dedicated community reporter for that patch.
“The piece did really well and I got a lot of messages on social media.
“Normally I am really good at keeping that emotional distance but with this story, I can’t help but feeling less detached than usual.”
Tom also spoke about how the local newspaper dealt with the national attention on their patch, and dealing with journalists from national titles also reporting on the killing.
He said: “A lot of nationals have been sending people to knock on doors, but we decided to put a message out to residents to let them know that we wouldn’t be conducting door-to-door interviews as we are respecting that mourning period.
“That was really well received and people have been appreciating how we are treating the story with sensitivity.
“For example, we didn’t mention that Brianna was transgender straight off the bat, even though we knew that detail. Initially it wasn’t relevant in the police’s investigations and we didn’t want to put it out there straight away, because the focus of the story was a teenager was killed.
“We have since covered how the LGBTQ+ community has reacted.”
Tom’s role is part of the Community News Project, a partnership between Meta, the NCTJ and regional publishers to support quality local journalism and connect with communities that have been underserved by the media.
During Tom’s time as a community reporter, he is working towards completing his National Qualification in Journalism with Bournemouth University.
Gareth Dunning, deputy editor of the Warrington Guardian, said: “Reporting on breaking news stories such as the killing of a teenager may not be what springs to mind for a community reporter role.
“But the death of Brianna Ghey was keenly felt in the village of Culcheth and neighbouring Birchwood, the patches Tom Bedworth was hired to cover for the Warrington Guardian.
“As such he was able to provide a much-needed human element to coverage, focusing on the impact on those communities and the grief of those involved.
“He was able to cover a moving vigil, live tweeting and doing a Facebook live while also contributing to the wider coverage via a live blog on our website.
“He has taken the task in his stride and his role has been a perfect contribution to the work of our small reporting team on this heartbreaking incident.”
Two 15-year-olds have been charged with murder in connection with Brianna’s death. They are due to stand trial in July.