Who would think that a small 15-minute student radio documentary on the Gurkha’s would have led to my exclusive access into No. 10 Downing Street having tea and biscuits with Joanna Lumley, Jacqui Smith and meeting Gordon Brown? Certainly not me and when I ran down to Westminster on the morning of Thursday 21st May, I thought I was down on my luck when I missed an interview with Joanna Lumley by 5-10 minutes.

Rather annoyed at myself and out-of-breathe from jumping out of bed, throwing on my clothes and running down to Downing Street, I sat on the grey stone wall opposite No. 10 contemplating what my next plan on action was going to be. After five minutes, my question was answered as I witnessed a man being interviewed on the Gurkha campaign by a TV news channel and I decided to grab the opportunity whilst I could and go and get an interview for myself. It turned out that Peter Carroll was the founder of the Gurkha Justice Campaign and after explaining my intentions to gain material for my radio documentary, he kindly invited me to spend the morning with him.

Lively celebrations followed for the next few hours outside Westminster as Jacqui Smith stated the historic news that all Gurkha’s could settle in Britain whether they had retired pre or post 1997. News arrived that Joanna Lumley, the Gurkha’s, campaigners and the lawyers had been invited for tea and biscuits on the lawn of No. 10 Downing Street with Gordon Brown. I decided to continue spending time with the friendly Gurkha’s and campaigner’s that I had met throughout the day and as I queued up amongst them to gain access I wondered if I would get past the policeman at the gate. On arrival, he took a long-hard look at me, looked at the group and as they nodded in approval I was waved through with the brave veterans and the hard-working campaigners.

Celebrating with Joanna Lumley (Web)

Together in the group, I walked behind the front-line of Joanna Lumley and the Ghurkha’s and we were warmly welcomed into the Prime Minister’s home. The resident’s employees were lined up on our right and left-hand side as we were shown through the spotless, grand hallway and continued to the back of the building and into the colourful garden with its perfectly mowed lawn. It was much bigger than I had imagined and maroon-coloured chairs with gold frames and legs were carefully laid in a semi-circle waiting for the beaming Gurkha’s to arrive with their equally happy wives.

Although in awe and shock, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and took photos and conducted interviews with Joanna Lumley, Phil Woolas, Jacqui Smith and a recording of the Prime Minister’s speech to the Ghurkha’s. The scene that surrounded me was surreal, in front of me I had humble Nepalese soldiers cheering for Gordon Brown and to my right-hand side, Joanna Lumley was overwhelmed and pinching herself with the victory that they had eventually achieved after so many years of campaigning.

Laura outside Downing Street (Web)

The atmosphere was one of disbelief, joy and gratitude as we all watched Gordon Brown approach and shake hands with every single Ghurka present. I was amazed and happy with the audio that I had gained, the experience of the whole day but mainly with the incredibly friendly and caring people I had met. Peter Carroll, Lynne Beaumont, Joanna Lumley and the lawyers were all so kind and I will never forget how much they helped me.  I had come from sitting on a wall outside Downing Street at 10am with no contacts at all to having tea in the Prime Minister’s garden by 4.30pm. A small radio documentary on the Gurkha’s turned into one of the biggest day’s of my life so far. I now hope to make a follow-up documentary looking at the reality that the change in the law will make and what it really means to the Gurkha’s and their families.

Myself and Lynne Carroll

Myself and Lynne Carroll (Gurkha Justice Campaign) on the lawn at No. 10 Downing Street

How I gained exclusive access into No. 10 Downing Street from waking up, throwing on my clothes to running down to Westminster on my own, not knowing anyone at 10am then finding myself on the lawn of No. 10 Downing Street having tea and biscuits with Joanna Lumley and Gordon Brown 5 hours later…….

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Laura Hawkins and I am just finishing off my Masters in Broadcast Journalism at The University of Westminster. I am going to tell you about how a small radio documentary on the Gurkha’s turned into one of the biggest day’s of my journalism life so far when I talked my way into No. 10 Downing Street and gained exclusive inside interviews with Joanna Lumley, Jacqui Smith, Phil Woolas and also recordings with the Prime Minister.

In the garden at No10 Downing Street

A photograph I took of Jacqui Smith and Joanna Lumley standing next to me on the lawn of No. 10 Downing Street

Gordon Brown, Joanna Lumley and Gurkha's united in the gardens of No. 10 Downing Street

The Gurkha’s battle against the UK Government is at last over as today they won their rights to be granted settlement here in the UK after a landmark victory decision.

Gordon Brown invited all gurkha’s for tea on the lawn at No. 10 Downing Street this afternoon and I was able to gain special access with Joanna Lumley, the gurkha’s and the Lawyers involved in the case.

I’m a law graduate who is now studying for my Masters in Broadcast Journalism at The University of Westminster. FIND OUT HOW I GAINED ACCESS AND LISTEN TO MY EXCLUSIVE AUDIO…………COMING SOON!!!!!!

Posted by: ljhawkins | December 10, 2008

The Assisted Suicide Debate

It was only a month or so ago that Debbie Purdy lost her case at the High Court to guarantee that if she decided to travel to the clinic Dignitas in Switzerland to end her life and her husband helped her to travel there, he would not be prosecuted.

However, this evening the ‘assisted suicide’ debate will be opened up once more as a true, honest documentary will be broadcast on the Sky TV Programme – Sky Real Lives. The programme will follow Craig Ewert, 59, who suffered from motor neurone disease. With the full support of his wife, he travelled to Switzerland to end the life that he was living. The programme will see the journey that he makes and the audience will witness him drink a mixture of sedatives and then turn off his ventilator using his teeth to press the switch. Assisted suicide in a safe, comforting and legitimate environment such as that at Dignitas is legal in Switzerland and many believe that it should be legalised in the UK.

It goes without saying that many will be critical of the programme and are completely against the notion of assisted suicide. The director of the campaign group, ‘Care Not Killing,’ Dr Peter Saunders said that the show was a ‘cynical attempt to boost television ratings.’ I completely disagree with this statement. I believe that we need a documentary such as this to reopen up the debate on assisted suicide so that Parliament can face the controversial issue and listen and see the view of the people in the UK on the matter.

The law is unfairly unclear in this area and citizens have the right to clarification. On one hand, we have people such as Craig Ewert and Daniel James travelling to Switzerland to end theirs lives. And on the other hand, you have women such as Diane Pretty and Debbie Purdy fighting the law to ask for clarification on assisted suicide.

The High Court stated at the Debbie Purdy case, that it was a matter for Parliament to clarify the law. Diane Pretty went to the European Courts of Human Rights to fight her cause, but still lost and slowly died in a hospice whilst suffering motor neurone disease.

So, we have had over 100 people go to the Dignitas clinic and no prosecutions on family members that have helped their loved ones. Although there was evidence to show that the parents of Daniel James had helped him book flights and make travel arrangements, earlier this week the Director of Public Prosecutions ruled that prosecuting his parents would ‘not be in the public interest.’ I completely agree with this conclusion as it was Daniel James himself who decided to go ahead with the assisted suicide and his parents, only after trying to talk him out of it, then decided to support their son in his one and only wish.

However, these cases just show how inconsistent the law is. Purdy went to court to ask the DPP to guarantee that he wouldn’t prosecute her husband for the exact same actions that Daniel James’ parents took. Although the DPP decided against prosecuting the parents, he could not guarantee that he would not prosecute the next family member that ‘aids or abets suicide.’ This is so unfortunate as both Pretty and Purdy tried to do the right thing by asking the law for clarity. By doing this it is likely to cause their bodies more stress and more emotional upset. But ironically, they could, like so many others, just travel to the Dignitas clinic unnoticed and make their own personal decision on how they wish to end their life.

I understand that if assisted suicide was legalised, it could have adverse effects on elderly and vulnerable people who may feel that they are a financial and emotionally burden to their families and think that the easiest option is to die. This of course could be the case in some families and this should not be allowed to happen.

However, for people with incurable illnesses, it should be their right to make that important decision. As Craig Ewert said in the documentary his options are; ‘death or suffering and death.’ He says that ‘once I become completely paralysed then I am nothing more than a living tomb that takes in nutrients through a tube in the stomach.’ These sound like very similar thoughts to those of Diane Pretty who had the same disease where you become completely paralysed, can’t walk, can’t talk and can’t do anything for yourself. As long as there are extremely strict checks and balances on the procedure at clinics such as Dignitas, I believe that it should be an option – but only to a small minority with incurable diseases or those paralysed as in Daniel James’ case.

Mrs Ewert said that her husband ‘was keen to have it (the documentary) shown because when death is hidden and private, people don’t face their fears about it.’

Head of Sky Real Lives, Barbara Gibbon said ‘this is an issue that more and more people are confronting and this documentary is an informative, articulate and educated insight into the decisions some people have to make.’

I agree that this issue needs to be debated further and Parliament cannot avoid the true reality that citizens are choosing this option. It must be remembered however that nobody can judge another person’s actions or state what we would do until they are in that person’s shoes. That is why we should all have the choice, the right to live with dignity and if we wish, then die with dignity.

To read more about the case of Debbie Purdy – CLICK HERE

Posted by: ljhawkins | December 7, 2008

My Brother – Luke Hawkins (Blue Peter’s Childline Appeal)

Below is a short film that my brother, Luke Hawkins appeared in for Blue Peter’s Childline Appeal in 2005/6.

It is based on a true story of a boy called Aiden. It demonstrates the abuse that his father inflicted upon him after his mother died and when his father turned to alcohol.

I think it’s an excellent short film demonstrating what some children go through behind closed doors in their family home. Its aim was to show children how they can call ‘Childline’ for help, support and advice if they are going through a similar situation. There is help at the end of the telephoneline and it can and has saved many children from further abuse and violence.


However, I also believe that this would be a powerful and meaningful short film to show in AA meetings around the country. Many fathers and mothers are recovering alcoholics trying to stay off alcohol and get better for themselves and their families and children. It may not work in all situations, but showing this film may touch a nerve with some AA members as they may relate to the situation and the emotions that run throughout the film. If an AA sufferer takes their anger out on their children, by watching ths film, it could force them to evaluate their own family situation and understand the amount of fear and pain that their child is carrying.

Of course I’m biased, but I think that Luke was excellent at playing Aidan and portraying the various emotions that he felt in the situation. You could sense the fear that he had of his father, but also the anger and the pain that he felt. For a 9 minute film it is rather powerful in showing how anyone could find themselves not coping with a current situation. They may turn to alcohol and then take this anger out on their children without true intent. There is help out there for both the child and the parents in these situations.

For more information on gaining this help call:

CHILDLINE: 0800 1111 (Calls are free and confidential)


Posted by: ljhawkins | December 5, 2008

Thailand is ‘leaderless’ but airports are up and running

Thailand’s main airport has now reopened after the eight-day period of protests and turmoil. Protestor’s from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) camped out at two of Thailand’s airports outside Bangkok for over a week in order to force the resignation of the country’s prime minister.


It created absolute chaos as thousands of travellers were left stranded at the airport because all flights were cancelled.


The aim of the protests concluded successfully in their eyes as Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was banned from politics and his court dissolved by a Thai court. The protestors then agreed to leave and stopped the protests.


The airports have now reopened and flights are officially back on track. However, the backlog of cancelled flights will take a while to clear so many passengers will be facing days of waiting for a rescheduled flight. It may even take up to one week for some passengers to get a flight out of the country.


An Airports of Thailand spokeswoman said,


‘Suvarnabhumi has officially resumed operations. All of the staff here are so happy to return to work. Thai Airways TG971 bound for Moscow officially marked the full and smooth resumption of the airport.’


Thankfully the mood has now completed turned around in Bangkok as people are out in force to celebrate the 81st birthday of their revered king. Dancers and puppeteers are welcoming tourists at the Bangkok’s airports and streets are decorated with flags, decorations and photos of the royal family.


But the political status of the country is still in question as there is currently no prime minister and no date when a new prime minister will be nominated.



Posted by: ljhawkins | November 28, 2008

Terrorist attacks in Mumbai

What horrific, shocking, disturbing and saddening news to hear of the bloodshed and insane attacks that are taking place in Mumbai, India at the moment.



I have had the opportunity to go to India and absolutely loved the country and all of the local people that I met whilst I was there.  I’m therefore finding this news so upsetting to hear as people that I met whilst I was in India could for I know be involved in this terrible nightmare in the city.


India is a beautiful country with such wonderful history and culture. The people were so extremely friendly and welcoming to me and they want as many tourists as possible to come and experience their country. Unfortunately it is sad to say that events such as these attacks do not help the reputation of the country at all and of course it prevents tourists going to India in fear of their own safety.


Shooting in Mumbai started late on Wednesday when gunmen armed with automatic guns and grenades starting shooting indiscriminately at a main railway station, two big hotels, a popular café for foreigners, a hospital and a Jewish center.  


Around 370 people have been injured since Wednesday and 143 people are dead although this death toll is still rising.


Indian soldiers have been working flat out to battle with the militants and save hostages. However, the number of shocked, dazed and upset civilians that are in the hotel lobbies etc make it more difficult for the soldiers to do their job. One officer said; ‘To try and avoid civilian casualties we had to be so much more careful. Bodies were strewn all over the place, and there was blood everywhere.’


One Briton, Mark Abell who was freed after spending over 36 hours in his hotel room was delighted at coming out alive. He spoke on Radio 4’s Today Programme at the ordeal and the chaos that surrounds him. Although happy to be out and on his way home to his family, the reality of the bloodshed and terror around him is extremely prominent. People that he has met only the day before in the hotel are now dead and he was shocked by the state of the hotel; ‘the lobby was carnage, blood and guts everywhere. It was very upsetting.’


It is still unclear who is behind these attacks, but India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested that Pakistan had involvement with the attacks and he stated that:


“We will take up strongly with our neighbours that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them,”


The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, denies any involvement and responded by saying; ‘Do not bring politics into this issue. This is a collective issue. We are facing a common enemy and we should join hands to defeat the enemy.’


However, the Indian Navy has seized two Pakistani merchant ships and is investigating the possibility that they dropped off the militants who they came ashore in fast boats.

In contrast, analysts in Pakistan have suggested that there is a possibility that these militants are home-grown Indian extremists, operating without external support. It has been stated that all gunmen were well trained and well prepared, ‘apparently scouting targets ahead of time and carrying large bags of almonds and dried fruit to keep up their energy.’ It would appear that they ‘al-Qaeda-style terror attacks’ that are taking place.

Of course, another possibility is that the militants are from Pakistan but are not involved with the Government or the country’s military establishment. Due to the war in Afghanistan, a ‘Pakistan Taleban’ have emerged in Pakistan’s North West. If they had teamed up with fighters from al-Qaeda, they coud have had the polical will and the finincial power to carry out such attacks in Mumbai. 

I hope however that Pakistan are not involved in these attacks so that both Pakistan and India can work together to combat these awful terror attacks that they are constantly threatened by.


Year after year Debenhams on Oxford Street have had beautiful Christmas window displays that are accompanied by….what else but Christmas music!


However, this year according to the London Lite newspaper, Westminster council have ordered the store not to broadcast its Christmas music, as it constitutes as ‘noise pollution.’


A Debenhams spokesman said: ‘All we were trying to do was bring a bit of festive cheer. It was never our intention to irritate anyone. We offered to turn it down.’


So yes, the store did offer to turn the volume down but this was rejected as the music as a whole may have a negative affect on the trade of the street. I think that this is ridiculous as Christmas music coming from one store is not going to turn away customers from shopping on the whole street or even in Debenhams itself. If people need to go into Debenhams for gifts or presents then they will be go into the store regardless of the Christmas music playing outside.


I personally think that it is a nice idea to play music to cheer people up in such a depressing and gloomy period.


Westminster’s cabinet member for community protection, Daniel Astaire said; ‘If every business was allowed to blast its choice of music and advertising into the Street, a visit would be unbearable and inevitable affect trade.’


I do take his point as if more shops started to play music then of course it would be too much. And it’s a lot fairer to have a blanket ban on playing music now that disputes to occur later on if more stores decide to take that approach.


It’s sensible but boring! Bring back the Christmas music!!



In a situation like this, whatever decision John Sergeant makes would never be the right one for all viewers. The last few weeks have seen public adoration for Sergeant as he has been saved by 9.5 million viewers week after week.

However, he has also received strong criticism for still having a place in the competition over better dancers who have been voted out. Yesterday he announced that he was quitting the show as he felt like it was the right time to leave;

 ‘The time to leave a party is before the fights start,’ he said. ‘I think that’s really what’s happened on this occasion. You can have fun dancing, and dancing is a wonderfully enjoyable thing. But if the joke wears thin, if in fact people begin to take things seriously, if people really are getting so wound up that it’s very difficult to carry on with the joke, then I think it’s time to go.’

He said that ‘enough was enough’ and he realised this when The Times newspaper had a column on him stating ‘He should go.’ As he said, its a ‘light entertainment’ programme and the coverage of him staying in the competition was too much.  

Like many viewers, I enjoyed watching him on Strictly and it is sad that he has left. He has the right to be in that competition just as much as any of the other celebrities because it is a BBC show, we as licence payers should be able to watch who we want and clearly the public wanted to watch Sergeant as they had paid money to vote for him.

The British public do always seem to vote for the underdog in competitions such as these, but I don’t believe that he would have won the whole competition. I think that in the end, the British public believe in fairness and what is just and they would have then voted for the best dancer to win the title.

One of the biggest criticisms that Sergeant received (especially from the judges) was that it was a ‘dancing competition’ and to keep him in was making a joke out of the whole show. However, at the end of the day, it is a ‘light entertainment’ show and it shouldn’t be taken so seriously. If it was a serious dancing competition then the public should not have the option of voting and only the judges should decide. But Strictly does give the public that option and so we should respect the votes and the decision that is made without having people up in arms about it and making Sergeant feel like he doesn’t deserve his place in the competition.

Although Sergeant is trying to take the correct course of action, he is still being criticised for it! Mr Paxman said ‘are you are man or a mouse?’ and Lord Mandelson said ‘John Sergeant should not bow out. He has become the people’s John Travolta and he should be a fighter, not a quitter.’ Some critic have even called his decision selfish as he has managed to make the whole show about himself and the whole series will be remembered because of John Sergeant and not the good dancers and the overall winner.

I think it is ashame that people think this. Sergeant has not made this programme all about his at all….the public have decided to make it all about him! He has made a difficult decision by quitting the show as he feels grateful to his supporters who have voted for him. However, I believe that he has made a honourable and selfless decision to move aside gracefully and allow the ‘dancing’ competition to carry on with the good dancers that remain. I will be looking forward to his ‘Farewell Dance’ on Saturdays show.

Posted by: ljhawkins | November 20, 2008

Did the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ judges bully John Sergeant?

Strictly Come Dancing is a dancing competition with judges who judge and that’s exactly what they did. They judged his dancing and more often than not criticised it for not being very good.

However, there are hundreds of viewers who are outraged that Sergeant has quit the programme and believe that the judges bullied him whilst he was on the show. I’m certain that Sergeant would deny that he ever felt bullied. He is an intelligent man who always knew that he wasn’t a good dancer, but then again, when he had put so much effort into trying to improve each week and the public love you, then perhaps some of the judges comments were too harsh.

One viewer who left a comment on The Times Online website asked if anybody remembered Julian Clary and Kenny Logan. They were apparently just as bad as Sergeant but never received as much criticism. Viewers are extremely sad that Sergeant has left stating that they will no longer continue to watch the programme as he was the only reason to tune in due to the entertainment factor.

I don’t necessarily think that the judges were bullies, it is their job to be critical however, I do think that they have been rather hypocritical since they have learnt that Sergeant quit the show.

For the last few weeks, the judges have campaigned for him to be removed and have constantly begged the viewers to ‘only vote for the best dancer.’ They have said on numerous programmes that they believe Sergeant staying in the show is making a joke out of it, because it is a ‘dancing competition.’ They have taken it very seriously and unkindly gave Sergeant 12 points out of a possible 40 points a few weeks ago.

Arlene Phillips said the broadcaster was ‘outstanding at dancing really badly’ whilst Craig Revel Horwood gave him a score of 1 point saying that he would have given him a zero if he had the option. For two weeks, the judges have called the dance-off a ‘travesty’ yet suddenly when Sergeant quits and allows the better dancers battle it out (which is what the judges wanted), they are suddenly sad to see him leave. And for Craig Revel Horwood to say that he didn’t have the courage to continue is just disrespectful.

Sergeant has a lot more courage and dignity than most. Although the judge’s now have what they wished for – Sergeant out of the competition so it could concentrate on the better dancers, unfortunately this has not done well for their popularity at all. Many viewers have lost respect for the judges who feel that they can attempt to manipulate what the viewers want to watch and who they want to see.  

In conclusion, the show is a light entertainment show which is why the public and families enjoy watching it on a Saturday evening. Through the judges eyes, it was still a dancing show and they didn’t like it when celebrities who couldn’t dance were staying in week after week. They now have what they wished for and they may have won in some way, but unfortunately it has backfired as the show will no longer be so popular and the popularity and respect for the judges has certainly diminished. Sergeant is now the one on top with the respect of the nation – good for him!

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