Media co-op Bristol Cable won the local journalism category at last night’s Press Gazette British Journalism Awards for its investigation of modern slavery abuses at a business in the city.
Reporters Adam Cantwell-Corn, Matt Woodman, Will Franklin and Alon Aviram won the award for their five-year investigation of the Lopresti ice cream van business, which has traded at locations across Bristol for several decades.
The Cable began the story in response to widespread rumours about the business’s “notoriety as employers and landlords”.
The story led to modern day slavery charges being brought against owner Salvatore Lopresti. Earlier this year, he was ruled unfit to stand trial after being diagnosed with dementia, but was issued by the court with a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order, restricting him from carrying out various activities in relation to the business, including recruiting or employing staff, being involved in disciplinary action, dealing with wages, taking possession of staff passports and providing accommodation to staff.
The Cable writes: “There were men living like slaves under Salvatore Lopresti’s control, and a trail of workers and tenants exploited by the Lopresti ice cream and property business.
“Having had enough of living in fear, poverty and indignity, these same people spoke out.”
The award judges said: “This was a compelling and impressive investigation which got results. The Bristol Cable’s reporting team stuck to this story with grit and determination.”
Mr Cantwell-Corn told the News: “This investigation took place over five years with various levels of intensity, legal hoops, barriers and challenges.
“It was made possible by the fact we are a co-op and our members mandated us to pursue public interest journalism, to do these stories, to keep digging.”
He added: “This award means recognition to the dozens of people who were exploited and intimidated, who spoke out, and to the members and supporters of Bristol Cable who made this happen.
“They are helping to shape a new model of journalism that can have an effect in Bristol and beyond.”
Bristol Cable publishes its stories through a website and quarterly magazine with a circulation of 30,000 copies; it has 2,000 members and has enjoyed support from organisations including Co-operatives UK, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Centre for Investigative Journalism.
It also delivers free media training through its Media Lab course with award-winning journalists, and year-round member events, to give locals the skills to carry out investigations and a platform to publish them on.
It also hosts monthly and annual events to give members behind-the-scenes access to investigations, meet the team, and have a say on the editorial and business direction of the Cable.
The issue of modern slavery has prompted a campaign from the co-op movement, with the Co-op Group setting up an employment scheme to help survivors recover and encouraging other businesses to join it; lobbying efforts at Westminster by the Co-op Party; and the Co-op Councils Innovation Network helping to drive efforts to eliminate it from local authority supply chains.