Dear Reader - Face to face with true courage + the hothouse of social media

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Friday, 8th November 2019, 3:49 pm
Updated Friday, 8th November 2019, 3:56 pm
Brave Lauren Doherty with her Harrogate Volunteering Oscar.

It’s not often you come face to face with what true bravery is.

And I’m not referring to meeting a D-Day veteran or a fire fighter.

The person I’m talking about is the same as you and me except for one thing - her life was changed completely and utterly when she crossed the road at the wrong time.

Eleven years later Lauren Doherty is still paralysed from the neck down.

But, when you talk to her, it’s quickly apparent the life force of the then 20-year-old Lauren before her horrific accident that fateful evening is still going strong all these years later.

It’s not the first time I’ve met this young Knaresborough woman who recently received the latest in a growing series of well-deserved awards in this case, The Harrogate District Volunteer Oscars.

But it has taken me until now to comprehend the true scale of her bravery.

For the simple fact is that, physically for Lauren, nothing works the same as before.

Yet she spends most of her time these days trying to help others.

Since Lauren launched her Road Safety Talks in 2016 she has spoken with remarkable honesty to more than 5,000 local schoolchildren and adults about the mistake she made which led to her accident and how they can avoid doing anything so ‘silly’ themselves.

Such has been her success she is now setting up her own office to enable her charity to go national.

And there she sits, her eyes burning with purpose, her sense of humour still somehow very much intact.

“There’s always a way to do something,” she tells me.

In hindsight what happened in Knaresborough in 2013 was a snapshot of the future.

At the time it was the newspaper’s biggest ‘live’ story for years.

What was thought to be an armed incident was happening in a takeaway in the High Street in Knaresborough.

Along with armed police, two of our reporters were sent to the scene straight away.

Bearing in mind we were then based at the top end of Otley Road, it was going to take them half an hour at least to get there.

In the meantime, back at the office the rest of us monitored the situation via police updates and social media.

The picture we got from local residents posting live from the area was dramatic.

But we were soon pleased we had taken it all with a pinch of salt.

When our two reporters returned from Knaresborough a few hours later after talking to all the right people on the scene, much of what had been spread around in the digital chatter turned out to be partly or wholly inaccurate.

Flash forward six years and those now seem like innocent days.

Rushing to judgement online has become the norm - whether that’s about the Stray or the UCI cycling championships or the Crescent Gardens redevelopment - and damn the consequences for anyone else.

But one thing hasn’t changed.

As trained journalists our job remains to write fairly and with balance, to resisting succumbing to the temptations of the social media hothouse.

Easy peasy.