Stephanie Balloo

BirminghamLive/ Birmingham Mail Reach PLC

Since starting at BirminghamLive as a local journalist, I've earned myself respect with editors through tackling some of the most disturbing local crime stories our city has to offer. I've chosen a sample of my exclusives, acquired through nurturting contacts and various sources. The first, a front page spread in the Sunday Mercury, tells the unheard story of a woman stabbed and kidnapped in the boot of her own car. Infamous Lee Martin went onto become one of the city's most wanted criminals, launching a terrifying and violent crime spree on innocent drivers. A huge public interest was gathered as a major manhunt by West Midlands Police was launched. It was a difficult interview to conduct, with the traumatised victim struggling to gather her thoughts, sobbing and reliving the ordeal. But through expertise, empathy and an understanding of how to speak to domestic abuse victims - gathered over years of working with such women - I was able to reflect her harrowing experience through words. The piece was read by over 14,000 people online alone (anything in the region of 5,000 page views is considered a 'high impact story' for local journalists such as myself). Though Lee Martin had bee jailed at the time of publication, I had to be skillful with the wording to ensure her story reflected the offences he was convicted of.

The second story came after a tip off to my emails about a convicted rapist who had worked in a Birmingham nightclub. The woman claimed to be the first victim of Iyoseph Derry, a boyfriend who had her eye socket broken and neck slashed. As the offences were historic, and we had not covered them before, this required checks with Birmingham Crown Court to ensure we had our facts straight before pursuing an interview. Again, this required skill and expertise to handle correctly. Clearly, exposing a rapist's vile criminal past is in the public interest. In a follow-up story, to run the next day, I also exclusively exposed the fact he had been working illegally at Banjul nightclub, despite these previous convictions. This was verified by back and forth checks with the Security Industry Alliance (SIA). In line with my focus on crime, the third article centres around a convicted conman who fled to Dubai to live a lavish lifestyle - despite owing HMRC £2.2million (which I had to confirm with HMRC and was only able to through strong contacts at the press office). After a source contacted me from Dubai, I began investigating his lifestyle. It was discovered the Solihull fraudster was partying in luxury penthouses and living in a multi-million pound villa with a maid. When approached for a comment, he was abusive and threatening towards me over the planned story, but through tactful conversation, I was able to confirm details - such as his address - through his response. I was also able to source images of his luxury life, from his villa to penthouse parties. It gathered a huge interest, with 30,000 page views online.