WILLIAM Stead – the founding father of campaigning journalism – wrote: “What a glorious opportunity of attacking The Devil” in describing his excitement at editing The Northern Echo and unleashing the power of the press. Sir Harold Evans, The Northern Echo’s editor in the 1960s, also built both the paper’s reputation and his own through passionate, successful campaigns. Being part of those traditions was what excited me most when I joined the paper, and I was lucky – and proud – to be involved in several campaigns. These are the ones I remember most…

1985: The Northern Echo launched an award-winning investigation into the scandal of haemophiliacs infected with the AIDS virus and Hepatitis C through blood products supplied by the NHS. That campaign played a part in forcing the government to establish a compensation fund for victims and their families, although the controversy continues.

April 1992: Michael Gibson, 20, was walking through Darlington town centre when he was the victim of an unprovoked attack that left him in a coma. At the time, an ancient law existed called The Year and a Day Rule which meant an attacker could not be charged with murder or manslaughter if their victim lived for 366 days or more. The law was an ass. The Year and a Day rule was scrapped in 1996 after a campaign led by Michael’s inspirational mother, Pat, and The Northern Echo.

October 1996: With Bishop Auckland Football Club about to go bust, I wrote an open letter to Sir Alex Ferguson, declaring that Manchester United owed The Bishops a debt of honour. After the Munich air disaster in 1958, Bishop Auckland FC – the finest amateur club of the era – had loaned Manchester United several players to replace those killed. We fully expected the letter to go in the bin. Instead, Manchester United sent a team to Bishop Auckland to play a fundraising match and The Bishops were saved.

September 1998: Take That’s Gary Barlow opened the Butterwick Children’s Hospice following a hugely successful fundraising drive, launched by The Northern Echo following the death of Princess Diana. At the time, the North-East was the only region in the country without a children’s hospice.

June 1999: Six months after becoming editor, the death of Ian Weir, a photographer on The Northern Echo, inspired a campaign that led to heart bypass waiting times in Britain being cut from an average of 12 months to three months. (See full story on Page ??)

July 2000: Disgraced gynaecologist Richard Neale was finally struck off by the General Medical Council after The Northern Echo gave his victims a voice over several years. Neale had been struck off in Canada in 1985 for serious incompetence involving the death of two patients, yet he was allowed to carry out botched operations on women while working at The Friarage Hospital in Northallerton. Utterly scandalous.

October 2001: In a call from Arkansas in the US, Middlesbrough mum Allison Maxwell-Jones thanked readers of The Northern Echo who had helped raise £55,000 to enable her two-year-old daughter, Hannah, to have a series of life-changing operations by pioneering surgeon Milton Waner. Hannah had been born with a haemangioma, which had left her with a severely disfigured face. I’ll never forget an elderly woman coming into The Northern Echo’s reception with her pension money and saying: “This is for Hannah.”

June 2005: A life-sized bronze statue of 'The Forgotten Hero' Andrew Mynarski was unveiled in a moving ceremony at Teesside Airport. Reader Betty Amlin had written to The Northern Echo highlighting the story of Mynarski, who had sacrificed his own life to save a crewmate when their Lancaster bomber was shot down during a bombing raid from the airport site in 1944. We raised £70,000 to fund the statue and a Lancaster bomber performed a poignant salute during the unveiling ceremony.

The Northern Echo:

August 2006: The government finally granted a posthumous pardon to soldiers shot for alleged cowardice during the First World War. The Northern Echo had called for the injustice to be put right in its Shot At Dawn campaign.

October 2006: When Billy Dunlop was jailed for life for the murder of pizza delivery girl Julie Hogg in Billingham, he became the first person to be charged twice with the same offence thanks to the 800-year-old double jeopardy laws being scrapped. Dunlop had been acquitted of killing Julie but was later jailed for a lesser offence. Believing he was protected by double jeopardy, he boasted to a prison officer that he’d got away with murder. We backed Julie’s mother – the incredibly brave Ann Ming – in successfully campaigning to have the law scrapped. After Dunlop’s conviction, Ann thanked The Northern Echo for the part it had played in helping bring her daughter’s killer to justice. The Northern Echo’s headline that day was a single word and a joy to write: MURDERER.

The Northern Echo:

November 2010: The Northern Echo exposed a secret plot by the Church of England to sell one of the region’s most significant treasures – the historic Zurburan paintings at Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland. We were threatened with a midnight injunction by the Church Commissioners, but we ignored it. The paintings and the castle went on to be saved for County Durham by philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer.

March 2011: The Northern Echo announced that the Hitachi train-building factory was bringing hundreds of jobs to Newton Aycliffe, and the company publicly acknowledged the important role the paper had played in banging the drum for the area. In a demonstration of the trust placed in the paper, deputy editor Chris Lloyd and myself were allowed to take part in highly confidential planning meetings about the bid to secure the Hitachi location.

The Northern Echo:

May 2012: Sadly, not all campaigns can end in victory. The Northern Echo played its full part in the appeal to save Darlington Football Club – including presenting a cheque for £10,000 to manager Craig Liddle – but The Quakers dropped out of the Football League.

November 2012: In a front page comment headlined 'Save Our Jobs', The Northern Echo launched a campaign to stop the Department for Education moving 400 jobs, based at Mowden Hall, out of Darlington. We called on the DfE to work with the borough council to find an alternative location in the town. Eventually, they did.

The Northern Echo:

April 2013: Following an investigation spanning ten years, The Northern Echo was finally able to break through prolonged secrecy by the Catholic Church over the mysterious disappearance of priest Fr Michael Higginbottom from his Darlington parish. Chief reporter Joe Willis revealed that Fr Higginbotton had been questioned, but never charged, over allegations of child abuse, and that the Church had paid one alleged victim £35,000 before the case could go to court.

The Northern Echo has done some truly extraordinary things during its 150 years, and I’m proud to say it has been an enormous part of my life. Long may it go on Attacking The Devil.