On the 22nd March 2003 ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd died on the outskirts of Basra as coalition troops advanced on Iraq’s second city. The post-mortem showed he was killed by ammunition fired by American troops and Iraqi forces. It was the first time an ITN reporter had been killed in a combat zone and remains the heaviest loss of life among any British television team. One of Terry’s crew, Frederic Nerac, and his translator, Hussein Osman, were also killed .
The tenth anniversary is a reflective moment for those of us who worked with them and specifically those of us who commissioned their journey to the front line. I was the Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of ITN. Primarily we remember the men and their families. ITV has shown a documentary made by ITN Productions in which ITV News anchor Mark Austin accompanied Terry’s daughter Chelsey to Iraq and America to make ‘Who Killed My Dad –the Death of Terry Lloyd’. Some of us will gather with Chelsey at Terry’s local to remember his bravery and his humour.ITN correspondent Bill Neely wrote movingly in the Observer of Fred Nerac who was one of his crew in the Brussels bureau at that time. ITN has organized an event at the journalists’ church, St Bride’s in Fleet Street, to mark the death of not just Terry, Fred and Hussein but also Gaby Rado of Channel Four News who died in Northern Iraq just one week later. In that church there is a list of the media who died in that war that includes Richard Wild a young journalist who worked at ITN during that war and afterwards went to Baghdad as a freelance and was shot dead in the street.
Therefore it might seem odd in these circumstances to add a further special mention for the man who gave the first order for American troops to open fire at Terry and his team.
Back on that Saturday morning in March 2013 those of us at ITN headquarters feared Terry and his team had died when we got the first reports back from the only survivor among the crew, cameraman Daniel Demoustier.
We knew that night that Terry was dead when we saw Al Jazeera footage of his body being taken into a mortuary in Basra. But we didn’t know what had caused his death and we had no idea what had happened to Fred and Hussein. Were they dead too? Perhaps they were still alive in the hands of the Iraqis. The American authorities initially denied, in writing, that their troops were even in the relevant area at the time. It became clear very soon that the British authorities weren’t going to do much to help.
Being the junior partner in a wartime coalition left the British more concerned about upsetting their allies than finding the truth about the incident. And it probably didn’t help our cause that the missing men weren’t British passport holders but just employees of a British company.
The fact that more information was eventually discovered, though sadly it was mostly confirmation of bad news, was down to two women journalists at ITN.
The first was ITN producer Glenda Gaitz who we sent to Basra and, taking many more risks than we or she realized at the time, searched the city for any signs of her missing colleagues. With fellow producer Nick Walshe and ex-SAS men we had hired, she put up missing person posters, hired translators to check every hospital and they even arranged for DNA swabs to be taken from mortuaries and graves for any sign of the missing men. The DNA tests led to the discovery of Hussein’s body but Fred’s body has never been found. Glenda also managed to track down an American officer who witnessed what had happened. He explained that soldiers had seen an armed Iraqi vehicle coming towards them , feared for their own safety, and opened fire not realizing that the vehicle alongside the Iraqis was an ITN car driven by Daniel with Terry alongside him in the passenger seat. The Iraqis fired back and Terry was hit. Glenda also found the Iraqi driver of a minibus who put Terry and other injured people on board to drive them to hospital .He reported that the Americans had opened fire on his makeshift ambulance.
Glenda handed over her evidence to the British military police where Major Kay Roberts had been the sole internal voice trying to get enough resources from her MoD masters to help.
In 2006 a British coroner recorded a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’ by American troops. The American military had refused to take part in the proceedings just as they had at any inquest into any British death in that war in which they had been involved.
As Mark Austin wrote this month in a preview of his anniversary film: ‘the American authorities blocked and stalled, British prosecutors ruled there was insufficient evidence to take the matter any further and there have been no trials, no courts martial and no closure’.
ITN correspondent Penny Marshall set out to find more about the American troops who were involved. Through sustained journalistic enterprise she worked out that US Marine Lieutenant Vince Hogan was the commander of Red Platoon, Delta Company, on that day. He had given the order to open fire. Then she set about finding him. From the moment that Penny located Hogan in his home town he has never sought to avoid responsibility for what he did. When the idea of an anniversary film was mooted ITN asked if he would agree to meet Terry’s daughter Chelsey. He helped to provide her with a better understanding of what happened and why he had given the first order to open fire as the vehicles came towards him.
But he said he knew nothing of the shooting at the makeshift ambulance with the injured on board when it set off in the opposite direction, away from his troops, towards the nearest hospital.Indeed he said he did not know it had happened.
Perhaps most importantly Lieutenant Hogan seems to have provided closure of a kind for Chelsey Lloyd.
As Mark Austin recorded after that meeting: “Chelsey, no longer consumed by a desire for vengeance, hugged Hogan before he left.As Chelsey and I walked from the coffee shop, I asked her whether the meeting had changed things for her .
“He was a good man, a nice man,” she said. “And I think I know why he did what he did.”
Mark continued:’She still doesn’t know exactly who killed her Dad. But ten years on she has some answers, she has some peace and she has a little more understanding.And that, for Chelsey, is something.’
Sadly there is no such comfort or closure for Fred Nerac’s wife Fabienne . With no clear evidence of what happened to her husband she kept a hope alive that perhaps one day he might be found alive. Eventually she had to give up that hope but maybe one day she,like Chelsey Lloyd ,will get some peace,some answers as to what happened on that day outside Basra ten years ago.