The day the Northern Echo exposed a secret Church of England plot



WE all love a happy ending and the opening in County Durham of the UK’s first gallery dedicated to the art and history of Spain represents an uplifting conclusion to a story with a dark and dark plot. winding.

The Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland is the latest in a series of cultural attractions developed by the Auckland Project, a charity founded by philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer.

A major cultural coup for a city that has seen its tough times, it’s nice to see the plan come to fruition.

And it reminded me of the role The Northern Echo played in preventing Bishop Auckland’s treasures from being unceremoniously whipped by the Commissioners of the Church, an agency that administers the real estate of the Church of England.

In 2010, we revealed a secret Church plot to sell 12 Zurburan paintings – treasures that had hung in Auckland Castle since 1756 – by auctioning them at Sotheby’s for at least £ 15million.

The story was told by Chris Lloyd – a regional treasure himself, if you ask me – with the help of our parliamentary correspondent, Rob Merrick. “Private and confidential” documents had been leaked by the deputy of the Bishop of Auckland, Helen Goodman.

The astute commissioners saw the opportunity to cash in while no one looked after the shop. Tom Wright had left his post as Bishop of Durham, and Justin Welby – who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury – had not yet succeeded him.

The opportunity was so lucrative that the plotters had paid a posh PR firm £ 35,000 to prepare the sale and keep it a secret until it was too late.

The commissioners initially denied the existence of such a plan until they discovered that The Northern Echo possessed documents that unequivocally exposed the truth.

As editor-in-chief of the newspaper, I was then pressured to keep the article out of print, claiming that I was guilty of breach of trust, while damaging the good reputation of the Church ( a Christian institution which, let us not forget, was willing to lie to keep the intrigue a secret).

They even tried to put me in a corner with the threat of an injunction from Mischon de Reya, a leading UK law firm, who had represented Princess Diana during her divorce.

As a columnist for The Northern Echo’s Echo Memories, the aforementioned Chris Lloyd is very good at remembering things, and he remembers speaking at Winston Village Hall on the night of the Legal Threat.

“I kept my phone on to keep looking for a text to say if the injunction had been served, but all I got were Man United goal alerts.” he amuses.

Surprise, surprise, the injunction never came and the first page above was duly published. The cat was out of the bag, the local community was in turmoil, The Times followed The Northern Echo’s lead, and the story caught Jonathan Ruffer’s attention.

The rest is history – and comes as an exhibition of the value of local newspapers.

WHAT a joy to be back on the conference circuit after the lockdown and reconnect with the wonderful grassroots organizations that unite our communities.

It was a special honor to be a guest speaker at the first official meeting of the University of the Third Age of South Durham (U3A) in Cockerton, Darlington, last week.

However, catching up after a long absence can also lead to sadness and this was the case when a member of the audience introduced themselves as Sue Boyle.

She wondered if I was aware that her husband, Brendan Boyle, had died of leukemia at the end of May. Sadly, I wasn’t, which means the next tribute is much later than it should have been.

In the mid-1980s, when I was a young reporter, Brendan, below, was a regular source of stories. He was the co-founder of Darlington CAMRA – Campaign For Real Ale – due to the fact that one of his passions was “good beer”.

Born in Middlesbrough, he was a planning officer at Darlington City Council, a Boro season pass holder and a friend of Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Brendan, in photo below, initially suffered from fibrosis and a donor was waiting for a stem cell transplant, but last minute tests showed he had leukemia and unfortunately he didn’t quite reach his 70th birthday.

“He was a lovely, kind and intellectual man that a lot of people miss,” said Sue, who is new to U3A.

From my point of view, he was a thoughtful, unpretentious man, very sweet but also passionate – especially when it came to real ale. If we missed an article for Darlington’s news list, he usually agreed.

Knowing that nothing more could be done for him when he was diagnosed with leukemia, Brendan planned his own funeral and woke up. His beloved bike was donated to The Bike Shop, Skinnergate, and his farewell was to the ORB micropub, where he donated a pair of beer pumps to the owners.

In the death announcement in The Northern Echo, he urged his relatives and friends to toast “for and on me”, adding: “No tears, just beers”.

Well done Brendan. Rest in peace – sorry, it took me so long.

ON a happier note, Norman and Margaret Hewitson were also in the audience for U3A.

They met while working at The Northern Echo. Norman worked in front office accounts and Margaret was an office girl. Part of her job was to cycle to the station to collect mail.

Norman and Marguerite, in photo below, are celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary this year after being married for 60 years. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

“We still get the Echo every day – how could we not? Normand smiles.

The Echo of the North:

THEN I was approached by Don Eccles, a member of South Durham U3A, whose father Edward was the linotype operator at the Echo for 45 years and the “chapel father” of the union.

Don was a television engineer, who had the honor of repairing Sir Harold Evans’ television in the 1960s, when the legendary campaign reporter was the editor of The Echo.

To wrap up this week, I’m back on the lecture circuit tomorrow – heading to Chorley to talk a bit about a cockadoodle-doo staged by the Lancashire Poultry Club.

I have been assured that I will not be paid a poultry sum.



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