Soldier steps in to give Tamworth Herald an Iraq exclusive

Journalists on the weekly Tamworth Herald were discussing what to put on the front page as deadline approached last week when a serving British soldier appeared in reception desperate to break his silence over the terror he had endured in Iraq.

After returning from his second tour of duty in Iraq with members of the Staffordshire Regiment, Private Paul Barton told the Herald that "Basra is lost" and that he and his fellow troops were like "sitting ducks" facing an ever-stronger insurgency.

During the tour, Private Jonathan Wysoczan was killed and 33 other soldiers were injured.

Barton said: "I was the first one to get to one of the tents after it was hit, where one of my mates was in bed. The top of his head and his hand were blown off. He is now brain damaged."

He added: "We have overstayed our welcome now. It's a lost battle."

Barton said many troops had narrowly escaped being bombed and he himself had had a grenade thrown at him by a young child.

Of the 40 tents belonging to his regiment, only about five were undamaged and the soldiers hardly slept for six months, he said.

The regiment was stationed at Shatt al-Arab hotel base, which was handed over to the Iraqi army last month.

Herald news editor Linda Ram interviewed Barton who, despite his criticism, remained loyal to the army, saying he intended to serve in Afghanistan.

Deputy editor Phil Shanahan said: "It was amazing how it happened. He was sitting in reception in full uniform waiting to speak to us as we were discussing the front page.

"We were virtually on that week's deadline, so it was manna from heaven, really.

"He put his neck on the line for a story that never gets told, even though we warned him there could be serious repercussions.

"He came here with a mood to tell all. He was absolutely determined to get this side of the story out.

"He also said he only wanted to speak to the Herald. He didn't want to speak to The Independent, for example, so we acted as a go-between."

The Herald splashed with the interview, which was followed up in the national media, and dedicated page two to the story, which included pictures of the mayhem in Basra.

Shanahan said it was too early to say how sales of the paper were affected by the interview, but anecdotal evidence suggested there was a hike.

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