The disappearance of Libby Squire shocked a city, here’s how HullLive stayed at the heart of the story and reached a new level of transparency with readers

Libby Squire disappeared on 1 February 2019. Her body was found in late March washed up in the Humber Estuary. She was 21-years-old.

As the search for student Libby Squire unfolded, it became not just the biggest talking point in Hull but also across the UK.

Here Jenna Thompson, Digital Editor with HullLive, explains how the newsroom stayed on top of and at the heart of a story which is still very much ongoing.

The disappearance of Libby Squire is a story that touched everyone in the Hull newsroom.

As the newspaper and website at the heart of the city we wanted to do all we could to help bring her home by raising as much awareness as possible.

Within minutes of her disappearance being revealed we set up a live blog which was filled with minute-by-minute updates as fears grew.

While we received a handful of criticism for publishing too many stories, we felt that it was the best way to raise awareness. Indeed many people told us that, if their child was missing, they would want as much publicity as possible.

But what else could we do? We created a missing person poster which was shared 11,000 times on Facebook, reaching more than 780,000 people.

Poster created by HullLive and used across social media to try and find Libby

We did live reports from police press conferences, the scene of searches and the location Libby was last seen.

We posted on Facebook asking people to share a simple heart emoji to show that Libby and her family were in their thoughts. It was a small gesture that we know Libby’s family appreciated.

Hull used the heart emoji on statuses

Indeed, they contacted us to thank us for our efforts to keep the case in the public eye and asked us to do whatever we could to keep Libby in people’s thoughts. This led to us visiting her hometown of High Wycombe to speak to her friends and family from home.

Another important factor in all of our decision-making was that we knew the community were understandably very worried about what had happened to Libby.

So we made a pledge only to report the facts around the case. It sounds basic, and is essentially what we do all the time, but we didn’t want to add to people’s fears by publishing unverified speculation.

Take the discovery of a hammer and a screwdriver in a bush on the street where Libby lived. A reporter was at the scene when crime scene investigators found these items and placed them in evidence bags. We had photographs of them doing so.

But we didn’t publish them, because we knew this could potentially terrify people.

When our readers questioned why we hadn’t reported the discovery, which they had seen in the national press, we told them. The next day police confirmed the tools that were found were completely unconnected to Libby’s disappearance.

When the man arrested on suspicion of abduction was named in the national press, we didn’t follow suit. The case of Christopher Jeffries, the man wrongly arrested on suspicion of the murder of Jo Yeates, loomed large in my mind.

Instead, we took the unprecedented step of explaining our stance to our readers with a Facebook post.

Jenna and team took the step of posting to explain their editorial stance — in the face of many national publications running certain lines about the disappearance

The response was overwhelming and like nothing I have ever seen before. While Facebook is normally the home of our biggest critics, instead readers were praising our reporting and thanking us for the insight into our decision-making process.

The biggest challenge came when police were running out of time to hold the suspect. It was 9.30pm on a Sunday night when officers revealed the man arrested on suspicion of abducting Libby had been released under investigation.

A simultaneous press release announced that Pawel Relowizc had been charged with a number of offences including burglary and outraging public decency.

Most other media organisations reported that ‘the man arrested on suspicion of abducting Libby Squire had been charged with unrelated offences’. But doing that would have been going back on our earlier pledge so we kept the two stories firmly separate.

When the tragic news came that a body had been found in the Humber estuary, many reports linked it to Libby. Again, we stuck to our guns, and did not put the two together until it was confirmed that it was in fact, Libby’s body.

Throughout our reporting of this tragedy, the support we have had from readers has been incredible.

One reader said: “I’ll be the first to admit that the coverage of Libby’s case has been exceptional. Sticking to the stone cold facts without spreading rumours or fear.”

Perhaps the most touching message came from one of Libby’s friends, who wrote: “Your reports are really something I have a lot of trust in and bring me so much comfort. If only every newspaper reported with the respect that you do.”

Read more on how local and regional newsrooms deal with stories which attract national interest in their patch:

Marking ten years since Claudia Lawrence went missing in York

You can bet we’re busy covering Cheltenham

How we’re covering nerve agent attacks on our community in Salisbury

What to do when 1million people descend on your city to see The Giants in Liverpool