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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Tributes for veteran journalist Terry Sutton, known as ‘Mr Dover’

A journalist whose career spanned nine decades has died.

Terry Sutton, who dedicated his life to covering Dover, was 94. The civic group the Dover Society, of which he was a founding member, announced that he had passed away yesterday at about 3.30pm.

Terry Sutton who died yesterday. Library picture: Alan LangleyTerry Sutton who died yesterday. Library picture: Alan Langley
Terry Sutton who died yesterday. Library picture: Alan Langley

Its online statement said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Terry Sutton. He was well respected and known throughout the town and in journalistic circles. He was known as Mr Dover by many.”

This was because of his vast experience and in-depth knowledge of the town, also as a local historian.

Messages of condolences included 154 in the Dover (Kent) History Pages Facebook page by this afternoon.

Malcolm Mitchell, former editor of the KM’s East Kent Mercury, said: “When I first met Terry back in the ‘50s I decided I wanted to be a journalist like him but I never became as good as him. There was only one Mr Dover. The town and port will miss him.”

Former Mercury reporter Graham Tutthill said: “He was one of the most prolific reporters I ever worked with.”

Mr Sutton worked as a staff member for the Dover Express from 1949 to 1994. He retired as associate editor becoming freelance, including for the Express, afterwards.

His last published story was in August 2022.

Terry Sutton, second from left one of four Honorory Freemen of Dover, in 2018. Other, freemen, from left, are former KM reporter Graham Tutthill, Richard McCarthy and Mile McFarnellTerry Sutton, second from left one of four Honorory Freemen of Dover, in 2018. Other, freemen, from left, are former KM reporter Graham Tutthill, Richard McCarthy and Mile McFarnell
Terry Sutton, second from left one of four Honorory Freemen of Dover, in 2018. Other, freemen, from left, are former KM reporter Graham Tutthill, Richard McCarthy and Mile McFarnell

Clare Jardine worked with Mr Sutton from 1987 to 1989, at the start of her career, and later as editor of the paper from 1998 to 1999.

She said: “He was a great mentor for us and a brilliant advocate for Dover. It is amazing to think he retired back in the’ 90s but continued reporting for so many more years.

“Several newspaper companies owe him a massive debt for all the work he did for their titles on a voluntary basis just because he loved Dover and reporting on the community he loved.”

Terry Sutton was born on March 26, 1929, in Buckland Avenue, Dover, and the family later moved to Stanhope Road.

He had been a child evacuee, sent to Wales, during the Second World War when his town was heavily bombed.

He joined the Dover Express aged 20 after National Service.

His father Norman Sutton was the editor at the time and was at first reluctant to let him join the paper, fearing it might confuse and jar their relationship. Terry Sutton finally persuaded him to do so.

Terry Sutton's autobiography from 2008Terry Sutton's autobiography from 2008
Terry Sutton’s autobiography from 2008

Over the decades he covered the biggest stories in the Dover district, including the Channel Tunnel building and two bitter strikes, involving Kent miners in 1984-5 and seafarers at P&O European Ferries in 1988.

One of his more disturbing assignments concerned the murder of a mother-of-five, 33-year-old Valerie Osmond. of Temple Ewell. She disappeared in February 1968 and her stabbed body was found in an underground reservoir in Guston two years later. The murder was never solved but Mr Sutton believed he knew who did it and said they were “still in our midst.” When the case was republicised in 1996 he said he wanted at least a “deathbed confession.”

Mr Sutton was the first journalist to arrive at the scene of the Crypt restaurant fire in Bench Street, Dover, on March 27, 1977. Seven people, including three children, died in the tragedy.

One of the most distressing stories for Mr Sutton was the sinking of the Dover ferry the Herald of Free Enterprise on March 6, 1987. A total 193 people were killed.

He was tasked with calling on the homes of bereaved families and was often sent away with four letter words.

Despite being hardened by 38 year’s experience by then he felt deeply guilty about, as he saw it, intruding at such a terrible time. He thought of giving up his job completely.

In 1991 Terry Sutton received an MBE at Buckingham Palace, by chance on his 62nd, birthday for his services to journalism. It was stolen in a burglary at his house in Whitfield a few weeks later and that medal could only be replaced with a replica.

The capsized Herald of Free Enterprise, March 6, 1987The capsized Herald of Free Enterprise, March 6, 1987
The capsized Herald of Free Enterprise, March 6, 1987

Mr Sutton became an Honorary Freeman of Dover in 2011. He was a member of several organisations also including White Cliffs Country Tourism Association, the Dover town centre St Mary’s Church and the Rotary Club of Dover.

For several years he was the narrator for the Dover Film series, the annual cinematic review of the year, which is shown at Dover Film Festival every March.

As a local author and historian he wrote and co-wrote several books such as his autobiography Mr Dover Reporting, Dover in the Second World War and Our Town, Dover, 1945-2000.

He leaves a wife of 53 years, Danielle, and daughter Josephine, now aged 51.

Sam Lennon’s personal memories of Terry Sutton

Terry was universally known for his trustworthiness integrity and solid, reliable reporting.

An example of his honesty was that he once turned down his share of extra payment from management. This was for all staff for writing advertising features. He said he was not one of those producing them.

Terry Sutton, made Honorary Freeman of Dover, May 2011Terry Sutton, made Honorary Freeman of Dover, May 2011
Terry Sutton, made Honorary Freeman of Dover, May 2011

Terry was already busy working ferocious hours, starting work at 8am and visiting the local police and fire stations to pick up overnight stories before most other staff arrived in the office.

Often he would go that night to district council meetings.

As a workaholic he was in the office seven days a week albeit only on mornings at the weekend.

He remained a prolific writer even with, as a news editor, having to organise and guide us young reporters and scrutinise our copy.

I worked with him from 1987 to 1994 and started under his wing as a wet-behind-the-ears junior.

I had moved to Dover from London and was one of the few staff who did not grow up in the town so his vast local knowledge was a big help in my learning.

People considered Terry to be a very charming man but he was also tough.

He took no nonsense and would put up a steely defence against people making unreasonable or unfounded complaints against the newspaper.

Local newspapers covered magistrates courts every day in the Eighties and obviously no defendant wanted their case in the paper.

Some would ring to complain that what we had printed about them was “all lies,” however accurate it was.

He would be brutally frank to trainees if they made silly and unnecessary slips, sometimes with gallows humour.

We used to write the weekly tide tables and when I made a mistake that was published he left a note on my desk saying: “Tides wrong- three drowned.”

I never made that mistake again.

Despite his age Terry’’s death is still a shock to many of us because even in his last years he seemed completely sharp and also very fit and well for his age.

On Remembrance Sunday 2018 in Dover, he was, at the age of 89, able to briskly keep up with the parade march as it progressed through the town. He didn’t even need a walking stick.

A former colleague described him as seeming “invincible.”

Goodbye Terry, nobody will match what you did for Dover.

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