Killing fuels BBC debate on use of armed guards

Ambushed: Gardner (left) lies injured in the road following the gun attack that killed Simon Cumbers (centre)

The BBC insisted this week that it carried out safety checks ahead of the assignment in the Saudi capital Riyadh where two of its journalists were attacked.

Freelance reporter and cameraman Simon Cumbers,36, was shot dead and BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner was critically wounded while filming outside the home of an alleged Al-Qaeda operative killed last year.

Neither journalist was wearing a flak jacket because Saudi Arabia is not considered “a war zone”.

BBC head of newsgathering Adrian Van Klaveren told Press Gazette: “We did a full safety and risk assessment ahead of the trip in which consideration was given to all these (safety) issues. It’s one of those things where you always have to consider whether flak jackets are appropriate, but it’s not a war zone; it’s not a civil war and so on. It’s not a situation in which one expected to have to wear flak jackets.”

In a prescient BBC News report last week Gardner had highlighted the escalating sense of danger among foreigners, following an attack in the Saudi oil city of Khobar in which 22 people were killed.

Van Klaveren said that plans to open a Riyadh bureau, drawn up last autumn, will be delayed while the BBC carries on the inquiry into what happened.

The men were shot on Sunday by suspected Al-Qaeda operatives.

Cumbers, an Irish radio and television reporter before retraining as a cameraman, was filming for Gardner’s report from Riyadh’s southern district of Suweidi, on fears of foreign workers in the wake of recent attacks.

It is also understood that anti-terrorist detectives from Scotland Yard have flown to Saudi Arabia to investigate the shooting.

Gardner, 42, is thought to have been hit by nine bullets. He received emergency surgery at the Imam Hospital in Riyadh before being transferred to the King Faisal hospital. A BBC spokeswoman said his condition was stable as Press Gazette went to press.

Gardner is the BBC’s first security correspondent and was appointed last year, with a brief to file almost exclusively on issues surrounding the global war on terror.

By Wale Azeez

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