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Moors murders journalist Ian McWilliam-Fowler dies aged 73

12 March 2013

Ian McWilliam-Fowler, who has died suddenly aged 73, was one of the foremost journalists of his generation in the north-west of England.

As chief crime reporter on the Manchester Evening News, he was the first journalist to link the deaths in the Moors Murders case. Ian wrote a feature on the disappearances of four youngsters, which was published in the paper on February 9 1965 – eight months before Ian Brady and Myra Hindley claimed their last victim, 17 years old Edward Evans, and precipitated their arrest.

In those days, before the setting up of Greater Manchester Police, individual police forces were dealing singly with each case, with no cross-referencing between the forces.

Ian looked at the pattern and concluded that the cases must be linked. He used the article to call for the setting up of a central missing persons bureau..

After covering the Moors trial, he went on to correspond with Hindley, visiting her in Durham jail several times, with his wife Patricia Roberts, also an MEN journalist, for a series of features – the first journalists to do so.

His association with Britain's most infamous murdress came to an end in 1982. "I told her in no uncertain terms that she should give comfort to the relatives of the still-missing children by telling them everything she knew. That made it clear I did not believe her protestations of innocence. She never wrote to me again," he said. Five years later Brady and Hindley confessed to the murders of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett. The body of Pauline was found, but that of Keith has never been found.

Ian was born in Bootle, and after leaving Merchant Taylors' school he entered journalism at the Formby Times. After National Service, which included work in the intelligence section, he became editor of the Maghull Herald, and after working for Caters News Agency in Birmingham, he went to the MEN.

In the February 1974 general election, he fought a spirited campaign as the Liberal candidate in Manchester Withington, achieving a record number of votes in the region for the party.

He was also a tenacious and effective long-serving Father of the National Union of Journalists Chapel at the MEN, where he won significant improvements to members' pay and conditions. An astute negotiator, tributes have been paid by his "opponents" to his integrity and professionalism.

After a spell in management as deputy group personnel manager and group training manager or the Guardian and Manchester Evening News, he went on to become director of promotion and development for Greater Manchester Council, and following its abolition by Mrs Thatcher, he opened his own news agency, Newsbeat, covering the region for the national media, including being The Times man in the North-West.

He was invited to become district public relations manager with the North Manchester Health Authority – the first public relations post of its kind in the whole of the region – and within a short time, with his characteristic energy and flair, won for that authority's hospitals, which struggled with crumbling Victorian architecture – the accolade of the provider of the best health care in the UK, in a competition run by the Sunday Times.

He also formed a relationship with Granada TV, which led the company to use his hospitals for locations of programmes including Prime Suspect and especially Coronation Street – for nearly a decade the Streets's babies were born at North Manchester General Hospital. The importance of this relationship was that it brought in many thousands of pounds for the benefit of the hospital.

Ian was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, at the age of 49, but fought it with uncomplaining tenacity and unfailing good humour. And despite his decreasing mobility, he continued to live life to the full with the unstinting support and devotion of his beloved wife, with whom he had shared a wonderful life for 42 years.

He leaves his wife Patricia Roberts – also an NUJ Life Member – and two sons and four grand-children from a previous marriage.

Tags: Manchester, newspapers, news agencies, broadcasting