ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd was killed in Iraq on 22 March 2003 alongside translator Hussein Osman. Cameraman Fred Nerac is still officially classed as missing.
They were happy days. Terry and I would seek each other out for a coffee most mornings in Kuwait’s Sheraton Hotel, just off the corniche. Some hours later there would be a cheery greeting in the restaurant where we ended the day swapping the latest stories about who was where, and what triumphs and disasters had occurred that day.
In TV news, a triumph is an exclusive and a disaster is a silly mistake on screen. As journalists do, we joked about which reporters were up or down. ITN were having problems at the time arranging frontline access with the Americans and another star correspondent had just turned up to find he was stationed with an air defence battery far away from the Iraqi border. Dark humour was the name of the game, as we charted the luck and misfortune of others. We were just days away from understanding what a disaster really was.
My job was to run a large newsgathering operation, both editorially and logistically, looking after a dozen or so reporters spread across the desert. But Terry and his team were my biggest challenge… and also my biggest opportunity. Their role was to operate independently of British and American forces and try and get to Basra when it was liberated, as it surely would be. Their job, once the war finally started, was to get the story. To get the prize.
Terry had two experienced colleagues, cameramen Daniel Demoustier and Fred Nerac. We added into the mix a local Lebanese taxi driver, who knew the lie of the land. Hussein Othman could get things done and a relative had a farmhouse up near the border. The trick was to get through the roadblocks.
The special talent Terry had – like all great hacks – was not just to know a story when he saw it, but also to know how to get it done. After a couple of meetings with people, a text flashed up on my phone. “Call me, we’ve gone.”
I never saw Terry again, nor Fred and Hussein. Daniel limped back into the hotel, bloodied and traumatised, some days later. The team’s fate has been well documented, caught in the crossfire between American and Iraqi forces.
The day they came under fire was my sixth wedding anniversary. I was a new father, and Terry had shared my joy with me. I knew how to change a nappy and raise a glass; now this, and I didn’t know what to say. I sat the whole ITV team down in my hotel room – newscasters, reporters, producers – and tried my best to tell them what we thought had happened. And then when Terry’s body was found a day or so later, I sat them down again…
Twenty years have now passed, and I work for Sky News. Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. We now have GPS trackers, better training, more effective kit, instant communications.
And yet. Every day of the last year we have had a team in harm’s way in Ukraine. As have many other news organisations. There are still very determined people trying to stop us from reporting the truth. There are still very determined people trying to GET the truth, and paying a terrible price.
I did keep that message Terry sent me as he left for the border. For some time in fact, until a phone company carelessly wiped my SIM card. It felt like my last connection with Terry had gone as well – it was a devastating moment.
But 20 years on, with conflict again part of our daily news diet, it feels like he’s back with me and everyone else working to bring truth out of the dark.
Urging us on. To get the story.
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