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Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Tuesday, 5 October 2004 11:56 UK

Meet the team

File on 4 has an unparalleled reputation for setting the standard for investigative journalism on radio. The programme has won over 40 awards.

Fran Abrams

Fran Abrams

Before Fran began reporting for File on 4 in 2001 she spent 15 years in print journalism, mostly on a range of different national broadsheet newspapers.

Born and brought up in Stockport, Greater Manchester, she did a sociology degree at the University of York followed by a one-year journalism course in Sheffield.

After training with the Birmingham Post and Mail newspaper group, she became an education correspondent, first at Birmingham then with The Sunday Times, The Sunday Correspondent, The Sunday Telegraph and finally The Independent.

After eight years reporting on education she joined The Independent's Westminster staff as a lobby correspondent in 1996. After covering the 1997 election and the ensuing change of government, she then took on an investigative role as Westminster Correspondent.

This led her to cover some of New Labour's early political scandals including the Bernie Ecclestone affair and Peter Mandelson's resignation over a home loan from Geoffrey Robinson.

Fran left The Independent in December 2000 and since then has made a number programmes with File on 4, covering subjects including European fraud, official secrecy and the failings of forensic pathologists.

She also writes features for The Guardian, which sent her to work at The Savoy hotel as a cleaner as part of an investigation into life on the minimum wage. The full results of that project were published in a book, Below the Breadline. She has since written a further book, about the Suffragettes.

Jenny Cuffe

Jenny Cuffe

As soon as I walked into my first newsroom, I knew I was hooked for life. The variety of assignments on a local newspaper - from obituaries to theatre reviews to murders - made the thought of a 9-5 office job intolerable and an English Literature degree at Cambridge left me with a thirst for words.

After a year at the Surrey Daily Advertiser I went to the BBC as a journalist trainee, one of a small band of graduates afforded a superb education in all aspects of reporting and production.

We played at making programmes in the basement of Broadcasting House and were then sent on attachments to the regions where grizzled news editors delighted in taking us down a peg or two.

Faced with the choice of a job in television or radio, I didn't hesitate in choosing to be heard rather than seen.

I have worked for BBC 2 and Channel 4's Dispatches and written articles for the Independent and Guardian newspapers but radio, with its immediacy and intimacy, remains my first love.

It is still the rich mix of subjects and the people one meets that make the job so interesting and, throughout my years as a journalist, I have found myself returning again and again to stories of ordinary men and women fighting injustice.

Recent Radio 4 series I have presented include The Pariah Profession (Sony Silver, Best News Programme of the Year, 2004) and In Seven Days. Award-winning reports for File on 4 cover issues such as abuses within the prison system, child psychiatric services, Aids drugs trials in Uganda, debt-relief in Tanzania and child-slavery in West Africa.

When not behind a microphone, I like to whiz round the Hampshire countryside on my bicycle, go to plays, films and exhibitions and, above all, enjoy the company of my family and friends.

Gerry Northam

Gerry Northam

Gerry Northam became a news reporter in 1970 at BBC local radio in Stoke-On-Trent and joined the File On 4 team in 1979.

He spent his early life in the north-west London suburbs of Cricklewood and Edgware, before leaving to attend Keele University where he studied philosophy and physics - a combined arts/science training which seemed to fit no obvious choice of career but which, he says, has rescued him from feeling totally out of his depth in either culture during a number of journalistic assignments.

His programmes have covered a wide international range - from the failure of food aid policy in Bangladesh, the activities of CIA-supported death squads in Central America, exposing top-level political collaborators with the Sicilian Mafia, to corruption and incompetence in Iraq under the American-led Coalition after the 2003 war.

In Britain, he regularly reports on education and health issues and has taken a special interest in the criminal justice system, particularly the police - exposing the secret militarisation of riot squads, the failures of police complaints investigators and persistent racism through the ranks.

He recorded the first inside account of Chief Constables' training and presented a landmark series on the future of policing with Lord Scarman. He has recently uncovered fundamental problems with the implementation of the gigantic NHS computer system and questioned the government's reliance on the Private Finance Initiative.

Gerry also reports for BBC television current affairs, initially for Brass Tacks and then Public Eye and most recently for Panorama. In private life, he is a keen music-lover and beekeeper.

Julian O'Halloran

Julian O'Halloran

Julian O'Halloran has been working on and off in current affairs since the 1970s with several spells in hard daily news.

He set out at first to be a doctor but found, after a few terms in medical school, that the smell of formalin and the mysteries of micro-biology were less compelling than films like Doctor in the House had led him to expect.

After a degree in psychology and philosophy and graduate studies in international relations, he squatted in the offices of a Sunday newspaper, filing stories as often as he could until the editor discovered he was not staff and asked him to vacate his desk.

Luckily, he heard of the BBC's journalism trainee scheme, at that time a well kept secret. He was taken on, working in various newsrooms and for a while at Westminster. As a national radio news reporter for four years, he did many stints in Northern Ireland and covered ETA's violent struggle for Basque independence and the war in the Western Sahara.

From the 1980s he specialised in foreign reporting, covering conflicts in Central America, the Middle East and the Gulf. For ten years he reported for Newsnight, covering the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

He later worked for Panorama and has made television profiles of Deng Xiaoping, Shimon Peres, and Boris Yeltsin.

He has reported for BBC2's Correspondent series from the USA, South America, the Middle East, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Arctic. He likes programmes with an investigative edge but believes that all news and current affairs should tend in that direction.

He believes teamwork and the reporter-producer relationship is the key to programme making. "In that respect I have been very lucky," he says, "working with many brilliant, energetic and enormously likeable BBC producers and editors in both radio and television."

Julian has been contributing to File on 4 for about eight years. Foreign subjects include Russia, South Africa, terrorism in the USA and the Palestinian question. Programmes in Britain on defence, health, the environment, and latterly crime and punishment, have enabled him to see more of his family.

His three young daughters offer helpful tips on style, clothing, subject matter and career development but in general see him as a lost cause.

Michael Robinson

Michael Robinson

My first experience of File on 4 threw me in at the deep end. It was 1981, the IRA hunger strike in Northern Ireland was approaching its climax and, it was decided, we should investigate the situation in Belfast and the British government's response to it. Having heard our report, the then minister demanded changes be made to our report. File on 4 and the BBC stood by our journalism and the minster walked away from the interview..

It was a high-octane introduction to the on-the-ground, people-centred journalism which File on 4 embodies. I found it compelling and addictive then and, over 25 years later, I still do.

My South African birth made it possible for me enter the country at a time when other BBC journalists were restricted. So, as political unrest grew, I was able repeatedly to report from the front line for File on 4 - coverage which won the Sony "Best Current Affairs Programme" for 1987 but also resulted in my being banned by South African government from entering the country. File on 4 had a typically robust response: immediately following that exclusion we mounted the first ever broadcast encounter between leaders of then-banned ANC and prominent South African business leaders and academics.

In my work for The Money Programme, Panorama and other BBC TV outlets, File on 4's first-hand, evidence-based reporting tradition has proved invaluable.

In "Mortgage Madness", a 2003 investigation into how the British mortgage market was being abused by estate agents, mortgage brokers and bankers to encourage borrowers to lie about their earnings to obtain far bigger mortgages than their income could possibly justify, the forensic skills I had been lucky enough to learn with File on 4 were fully employed. The result was an award winning programme which which provided an early warning of the emerging housing bubble.

Since 2007, I have been covering the aftermath of that story - both for File on 4 and for the documentary unit of BBC World Service Radio - charting the crisis from financial engineering inside banks and hedge funds, through the resulting sub-prime crisis in the US and UK, to the subsequent banking collapses and the resulting economic and trade turmoil.

I am fortunate that File on 4 was prepared to commission programmes digging into these seemingly technical issues well before most other broadcasters and newspapers and pleased that this robust commissioning has been rewarded with numerous awards for the resulting coverage both on World Service and on File on 4.

I have always been happiest when trying to uncover secrets which vested interests want to keep hidden and unpicking complexities which baffle or bamboozle the general public. I am convinced that Radio - and File on 4 in particular - is the best place for this kind of journalism.

Allan Urry

Allan Urry

Allan made his first File on 4 in 1997 and describes the experience as "like climbing a mountain in the dark. I didn't really know quite where I was or if I could reach the top. I just plodded on, managing by luck to avoid falling off, being helped along by the rest of the team."

Having survived his first exposure to the high altitude journalism the programme demands, he has now become hooked on it. " It's the amount of detail we gather during our investigations which sets File on 4 apart from other programmes," Allan said.

For years I was a news reporter with little time to research or probe beneath the surface. Now it's the opposite - piles of papers, files and reports to scrutinise. Somewhere in amongst it all is the story."

The need to be well briefed was painfully underlined for Allan early in his career when, as a young sports reporter, he challenged the then Watford manager Graham Taylor about how his side had won through to the final of the FA Cup, beating Plymouth Argyle 1-0.

"I'd been interviewing supporters inside the ground during the first 30 minutes of the game, but then had to make my way around the outside of the stadium to the press box on the other side. A roar from the crowd told me a goal had been scored, but I'd not seen it.

"During the post match interviews, as I queued with newspaper reporters to interview Graham Taylor, I turned to a respected but rather short colleague - an Argyle fan - and asked him to describe it. 'I think it was a bit lucky mate, but" was all he managed to tell me before it was my turn with the microphone and the Watford manager.

"Taylor reacted with amazement, then anger when I put it to him his team had scraped through with a lucky goal. He gave me a thorough dressing down in front of the nation's press, all of whom were gleefully scribbling away as he emphasised how little I understood the game of soccer, how stupid he believed I was, and 'Just exactly how did I spell my name?' for the benefit of the assembled hacks.

"I reeled away from the encounter wondering what had hit me. I told my colleague what had happened. He admitted he missed the goal himself, because he hadn't been able to see over the Watford fans who'd stood up in front of him as their winger, John Barnes, charged down the flank beating three Plymouth defenders before delivering a devastating cross into the penalty box. "

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