A FORMER Helensburgh Advertiser reporter won her third BAFTA award for an undercover investigation in November 2008.
Samantha Poling, whose parents used to live in the burgh, completed her hat-trick with a BBC TV Panorama programme entitled ‘Britain’s Protection Racket’, which won the 2008 best documentary accolade.
The programme investigated the country’s security industry, showing it remained riddled with criminality despite new legislation introduced to police it.
Sam went undercover to investigate a convicted drug trafficker who was not only acting as a consultant for a major security company, but also running it. He had been convicted of masterminding a drug-smuggling operation in Estonia.
“It was great to receive another BAFTA but it was a team achievement,” Sam said after the ceremony. “It’s fabulous that the industry acknowledges the work.
“A few days after the programme the man was arrested and he will never work in the security business again.”
She found him claiming to be a security consultant for a Yorkshire company and revealed how he boasted that he ran the group which he claimed spanned city centres, motorways, supermarkets, colleges and stores across the country.
Sam admits that her investigations can be risky, but added: “I love doing it. I’m the only woman that does this kind of job.”
She was excited to meet Alex Norton, star of Taggart, who presented her with the award at the BAFTA ceremony. “I love him. It was just great,” she said.
Her first two BAFTAS were for Security Wars, and The Arlene Fraser Murder Trial: The Missing Evidence.
In a BBC interview about her life as a reporter, Sam said: “When I was 10, I met a very well-known tabloid editor who told me, 'There are two things you need to know about being a journalist. One, you've only made it when you've had three death threats. And two, if your mother says she loves you, check it'.
“He was talking danger, excitement — and suspicion. At 10, my career decision was made. I was going to be a journalist.
“My first job was a trainee reporter in Alnwick, working on the Northumberland Gazette. Glamorous it wasn't. But it was the best grounding I could have asked for as a journalist.
“I returned to Scotland in 1995 and from then on, no two days have ever been the same. I worked my way from the Helensburgh Advertiser to a Glasgow press agency, then on to the national press.”
She reported from Dunblane after the massacre, wrote from Paris after the death of Princess Diana, and followed the Tartan Army round France during the World Cup in 1998. At the end of that year she joined the BBC as a reporter, then worked for News 24 before being appointed BBC Scotland's Health Correspondent.
“It was a busy time, providing coverage for both radio and television,” she recalled. “Whilst I loved the immediacy of it all, it was often so busy I was unable to focus on what I really wanted to do . . . long-term investigations.
“In 2001, the BBC programme Frontline gave me that chance. Since becoming one of the programme's reporters, I have had the opportunity to confront corruption at every level — from exposing cigarette smugglers and holiday club conmen to charity rip-offs and dangerous medicines.
“I have filmed with the army in Iraq, with call centre workers in India, and in the casinos in Vegas. In 2004 I worked undercover for Security Wars to expose a cartel of gunmen and murderers — a programme which later won a BAFTA and other international broadcast awards.
“More importantly, it forced politicians to speed up the tightening of security legislation.”
She made her first Panorama, Scotland's Secret Shame, in 2005, working undercover to expose sectarianism at Rangers and Celtic matches.
In 2007 she won her second BAFTA with a programme which exposed the flaws in the police investigation into the murder of Arlene Fraser.
It also questioned the safety of the conviction of Arlene's husband Nat, who was given a life sentence for killing her. Five months after the broadcast, he was released on bail pending appeal. The original police investigation is now the subject of an inquiry.
“Looking back, that tabloid editor was right,” Sam says. “My work has probably made me as many enemies as it has friends. So it's a good thing I have one other love in my life . . . my very big, very fast and very red motorbike!”