Samira Shackle

The Guardian

Three stories show the range of Samira Shackle’s skill in forensic investigation, and powerfully human, empathetic reporting. 

“It’s as if a thief came into our family home and took the heart of it” 

The killing of Zara Aleena was a terrible tragedy, a murder that should not have happened: the killer had recently been released from prison, and the probation service failed to keep tabs on him. Samira gained the trust of the family, who spoke movingly about Zara and about their devastation at her loss and the shocking manner of her death. Samira tracked Zara’s last steps, and also the failings that led to her killing, in the context of increased sexual violence against women and girls, lack of investment in probation services, and a general rise in misogyny in the police. Most memorable is the portrait of a young woman who was the centre of her family. Zara becomes a real person, no longer a murder statistic, which brings the tragedy home, to powerful effect. 

“You reach a point where you can’t live your life” 

Hoarders are a subject of voyeuristic fascination. Extreme hoarders can no longer access their own beds, or bathrooms, but they still keep accumulating until a home becomes an “avalanche risk”. They can be isolated from friends and neighbours through shame. Housing officers mostly handle cases by clearing the contents of a hoarder’s home by force, which is traumatic for them, and they quickly replace their stuff. Samira explored a new approach by welfare services who have been treating hoarding as a mental illness, related to trauma. She managed to spend time with health workers who are trying, with great patience, to help hoarders work on beginning to clear their homes. She overcame barriers of shame and mistrust to speak to hoarders and their family members, who talked movingly about the issue (including a man who lives in his car because his three flats are full of stuff). The article showed how a public health approach can make important changes to people’s lives. 

 “Ordinary people doing the most extraordinary things” 

The battle over Sheffield’s urban tree felling policy became a news story that played out with increasing drama over several years. In the face of an intransigent council, residents wanting to save beloved trees became militant protesters for the first time in their lives. Councillors raised the stakes with a crackdown that became increasingly dangerous. Samira, skilled at investigating complex scandals such as the Trojan Horse affair, gained access to council memos and emails, and developed eloquent and sympathetic sources among protesters, and in the council. She was able to get to the heart of what had gone so badly wrong. This is the story of a council that stuck to its guns against advice it had paid for, and supporters whose lives were taken over by the desperation to save healthy trees, to the point of getting arrested. Samira answers the question that many asked at the time: how did this happen?