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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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In all the courtrooms in all the world … my stunning encounter on The Stunner

FOLDED: The Cheadle and Tean Times was known as The Stunner


Sad days afoot in Cheadle — that’s the former mill town in Staffordshire, not the moneyed haunt in Cheshire of Manchester’s WAGs. The Cheadle and Tean Times printed its last issue on July 5 after 127 years.


Known affectionately as The Stunner, it was a family owned and run newspaper to the last and it’s where your correspondent, ALEX COLLINSON, started his labours as a hack in 1963.


At that time, the owner-editor was Percy Campbell. The owner-editor at the end was his son, Paul.


Alex writes: Happily for me, a university degree was not de rigueur to get a foothold in journalism at the time and Percy Campbell gave me that opportunity. I had arrived in rural Staffordshire from a misspent childhood in north London and a squandered education at William Ellis grammar school, which I hated. It’s fair to say that the feeling was mutual and we were both very happy when I left at 17. And that sets the scene for one of the strangest episodes of my life.


One filthy winter’s morning, I think less than a year after I’d started as a very junior reporter, I was dispatched to Cheadle Magistrates’ Court to cover an inquest on three graduate trainees from Rolls Royce, Derby, who died when their Mini van, en route to Keele University, skidded on ice into an oncoming lorry.


At the front of the gloomy courtroom was a huddle of important-looking men and as I was making my way to the press box, one looked round and exclaimed: “Collinson, what are you doing here?”


It was my old London headmaster and nemesis, Sydney Baxter.


Mystified, I could only blurt out: “Mr Baxter, why are you here?”

“Didn’t you know?” he said. “It was my son.”


Deflation doesn’t really come near it. His son, John, had been a star pupil at William Ellis two or three years ahead of me and was idolised by his father, formerly a major in military intelligence at Bletchley Park. To realise in an instant the distress he must have felt shook me to the core.


He approached me afterwards and asked if I would send him the inquest report and any unpublished photos the paper had of the accident scene.

I did, of course, and had a note of thanks and never saw him again. I heard that unsurprisingly, he was never the same and would be seen walking the school corridors in his master’s gown muttering to himself. 


19th July, 2023