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December 5, 2016

Tributes paid to ‘hugely respected’ Northern Ireland journalist Austin Hunter, killed aged 64

By Freddy Mayhew

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has joined tributes to journalist Austin Hunter, who reported for the BBC during the height of The Troubles, following his death aged 64.

Father-of-two Hunter was killed on Saturday in a road collision while on business in Bahrain as a media consultant, according to reports.

His career in media spanned 45-years, covering radio, TV and print as well as public relations.

Stormont’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, said on Twitter: “Shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the death of Austin Hunter. Held in the highest regard by all who knew him. Deepest sympathy.”

She told the BBC: “As a highly respected journalist for many years, Austin’s professionalism and exemplary journalistic skills put him at the forefront of his profession.

“Austin was a man of deep integrity and objectivity who was respected by all who knew him or came in contact with him.”

Hunter started his career at the Strabane Weekly News, Tyrone Constitution and BBC Radio Foyle.

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He went on to work as a broadcast journalist for BBC Northern Ireland during the worst days of the Northern Ireland conflict, known as The Troubles.

He later took over as editor of the Belfast News Letter.

Current editor Alistair Bushe said he was “devastated” to hear of Hunter’s death.

“During Austin’s period as editor of the News Letter, it achieved its best circulation figures for eight years,” he said.

“His leadership skills help lead it out of a difficult period and even after he left the paper in 2006, I know he always maintained a close affinity for the News Letter.

“He was a hugely respected and well liked figure across the media industry in Northern Ireland. My deepest sympathy to his family at this terrible time.”

Hunter later worked in public relations, variously as head of communications for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (and later the Police Service of Northern Ireland), the Orange Order and BBC Belfast.

He also worked as a media consultant for Northern Ireland Co-Operation Overseas, which sends local experts to advise state bodies, and was on business for the company when he died.

Hunter was named the Press Photographer’s PR Person of the Year in 1997 and was awarded the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Media Relations Person of the Year Award in 1998.

Hunter’s wife Jean, son Simon and daughter Rachael said in a statement: “We’re absolutely devastated at the loss of a loving husband, father and grandfather.

“We are deeply touched by the warm tributes paid by so many and they have given us some comfort at this awful time.

“Right now, we want to focus on our family and despite media interest we would gratefully appreciate the space to grieve.”

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen also paid tribute to Hunter on Twitter.

He said: “Very sad news. Austin was friendly, kind and professional to me when I was a trainee and he was a senior reporter at BBC Belfast in 1984. RIP.”

Deric Henderson, former Ireland editor of the Press Association added: “He was a fine, fine journalist, a terrific communicator, trusted and respected by all of us within, as well as outside, an extremely stressful and challenging business.”

Picture: BBC

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