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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Obituary: Paul Foot
Paul Foot
Paul Foot: Iconoclastic campaigning journalist
Paul Foot was a pioneering investigative journalist, whose campaigning style went hand-in-hand with a deeply-held belief in socialism.

Shrewsbury School in the Fifties must have been one heck of a place. John Peel, Willie Rushton, Michael Palin, all were contemporaries there, as was Paul Foot.

Foot, tall, good looking, full of gravitas, with a first-class brain and impeccable liberal credentials, was a lifelong socialist and iconoclast and perhaps the most influential investigative journalist of his age.

He was born in 1937, the son of the journalist Hugh Foot, later to become Lord Caradon, the last British governor of Cyprus and the UK's Ambassador to the United Nations from 1964 to 1970.

One of Paul Foot's uncles, Sir Dingle, was an MP for both the Liberal and Labour parties, while another uncle was Michael Foot, another former Liberal MP who was leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983.

High-profile investigations

The Foot dynasty was infused with nonconformist religion and a hefty dose of radicalism, too. Though of the Establishment, the Foots were never quite at home in it.

Foot did National Service as a second lieutenant in the West Indies before going up to University College, Oxford.

When his former Shrewsbury schoolmates, Rushton, Richard Ingrams and Christopher Booker formed Private Eye in 1961, it was obvious that Foot should join them.

After all, he had been a close collaborator on magazines, both at Shrewsbury and at Oxford where, besides being President of the Union, he edited Isis.

Michael Foot
Paul Foot's uncle Michael
Behind its humorous and satirical fašade, which brought the Eye a circulation of 90,000 within a year, Lord Gnome's organ has always been noted for its investigative reporting.

After Paul Foot officially joined the team, the Eye upped its game considerably. Foot exposed the Poulson scandal, where politicians were bribed to give lucrative contracts to builders and architects.

When the full story emerged, T Dan Smith, leader of Newcastle City Council, was jailed and the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, resigned in disgrace.

He also stood behind the so-called Bridgewater Four, originally found guilty of killing a paper-boy in 1978 and released 18 years later after it was revealed that one of them, who died while in prison, had been tricked by police into signing a false confession.

Criticised Thatcher

But, beyond his obvious triumphs, Foot sometimes got it terribly wrong.

The Hanratty affair is a case in point. Twenty-five-year-old James Hanratty was hanged in 1962, after being found guilty of killing scientist Michael Gregsten and raping and shooting his mistress Valerie Storie.

Foot's interest began in 1966 and, for the next 34 years, he consistently and eloquently demanded justice for Hanratty.

The case was finally reopened in 2000 and, after Hanratty's body was exhumed, so DNA samples could be scraped from his bones, his guilt was proved beyond doubt.

Throughout the Thatcher years, Paul Foot's weekly counterblasts in the Daily Mirror provided a dissenting commentary to the political mainstream.

Three of the Bridgewater Four
Paul Foot campaigned for the Bridgewater Four
He called for workers' control of industry, backed the miners' strike and both mocked and attacked Thatcherism.

Foot resigned from the Mirror in 1993 after a number of his articles, critical of the paper's management, were spiked. More recently, he wrote a fortnightly column for the Guardian.

Foot's socialism was always the key element in his journalistic work. A founder member of the Socialist Workers' Party, he edited the party newspaper and was a regular speaker at rallies and political workshops.

His regular, often witty, appearances on BBC One's Question Time were always memorable and he never lost his appetite for socialist politics, despite the fact that, to most people, revolutionary socialism looked increasingly irrelevant and sectarian.

Later, he stood as the Socialist Alliance candidate for Mayor of Hackney in October 2002 and came a creditable third. More recently he was a prominent member of the Stop the War Coalition.

Though he won many awards for his journalism, including the What the Papers Say Campaigning Journalist of the Decade, Paul Foot never lost his drive or his measured anger, as shown by his incisive critique of the government's Public Finance Initiative, published just a few weeks ago.

An interview with Paul Foot


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