Sophie Barnes (Investigative, 2012) has won the 2018 XCity Award for her reporting on the Grenfell Tower disaster and investigations into fire safety, welfare reform and the effects of the benefit cap on vulnerable families.
The deputy news editor of Inside Housing was chosen as winner from a list of 16 nominees. The award, which comes with a £500 prize, honours an ex-City student who has made an outstanding contribution to journalism in the last year.
Inside Housing had been reporting on government fire safety regulations since 2009 when a fire broke out at Lakanal House in south London, killing six people. Before Grenfell, Barnes spoke to experts who told her a similar fire could easily happen again because the cladding used on many tower blocks was unsafe.
“I think a lot of people thought [Grenfell] was a one-off,” said Barnes. “And then you hear about all these other buildings that have this cladding, and you think there must be something wrong with the way people are either interpreting the guidance or the guidance itself.”
Following the Lakanal House coroner’s report in 2013, the Government assured a review of the regulations would take place. However, it failed to do so and Barnes’s investigation in the aftermath of Grenfell has involved analysing more than 600 fire risk assessments. These were obtained from Freedom of Information requests to councils across the country in a bid to identify further fire safety issues.
She has also been actively involved in Inside Housing’s campaign, “Never Again”, which puts pressure on landlords and the Government to make fire safety a number one priority.
Dr Barbara Rowlands, a judge on the XCity Award panel and head of the Magazine MA, said: “Sophie is very much a worthy winner. She produced one of the most detailed analyses of high-rise fire safety ever conducted, putting out a vast number of FOI requests and meticulously sifting through the results.”
She added: “This was public interest journalism at its finest, delivered by a dedicated reporter.”
Barnes has also been recognised for her reporting on the effects of the benefit cap on vulnerable families. This led to an exposé on social housing landlords who refused to house families subject to the cap.
On winning the XCity award, Barnes said: “It’s a real honour. I really enjoyed my time at City and it has produced some brilliant journalists, so it’s really nice to be recognised by people who are going to be journalists in the future.”
The XCity Award was established in 2011 to mark the 25th anniversary of XCity magazine. Last year’s winner was Oliver Shah (Newspaper, 2009), City editor of The Sunday Times, for his investigation into Sir Philip Green’s £1 sale of BHS and the pensions scandal that followed.