A BBC journalist shot dead while on assignment in one of the world’s most dangerous countries was operating near the “limit of acceptable risk”, the corporation’s head of safety told an inquest today.
Producer Kate Peyton, 39, of Beyton, Suffolk, died after being shot in the back in Mogadishu, Somalia, in February 2005.
An inquest in Ipswich, Suffolk has heard that Somalia had no effective government and was regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous places.
Former army officer Paul Greeves, who headed the BBC’s “high risk team” and gave journalists working in hostile environments advice, training and support, said Mogadishu was regarded as a “category one hostile environment”.
And he told the hearing that political developments had made Somalia “even more dangerous”.
But he said news assignments could still be conducted “with care”.
“It was my view that the situation had become even more dangerous,” Greeves said.
“We were approaching the limits of acceptable risk. Arrangements therefore needed to be looked at very carefully.”
He added: “But in essence we were in agreement with those on the ground.
The situation was not getting any easier but with care news assignments could still be conducted.”
He said Mogadishu was one of the “few places” where the BBC accepted the need to hire local armed militia to protect journalists.
Greeves, a retired lieutenant colonel, who said he had seen service in Northern Ireland, the first Gulf War and the former Yugoslavia, had BBC security advisors class Mogadishu as an area of “exceptionally high risk where battlefield conditions prevailed”.
He said journalists had to have an appropriate level of training before being allowed to travel to the Somalia capitol – that included a six day hostile environment and first aid course.
He said Miss Peyton – and Peter Greste, the reporter she was working with – had the necessary training and experience.
Greeves said it was part of the BBC’s “policies and culture that journalists could decline assignments if they were concerned about their safety or the safety of others”.
And he said Peyton took the assignment seriously but was not “unduly concerned”.
Greeves said Peyton’s family, friends and colleagues had suffered a “terrible loss” and he praised her bravery.
“I was a solider for more than 20 years and in recent years I have come to develop a huge respect and admiration for journalists who cover foreign news,” he added.
“It is one thing to go to these places with a rifle in your hand. It is quite another to go virtually unsupported, armed only with a camera or a recording device or a pen. Kate was an extraordinarily brave journalist.”
Minders were not warned
Armed minders were not warned that producer Kate Peyton and other BBC journalists were leaving a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, a coroner was told.
She had gone to the hotel with reporters in the hope of speaking to Somali government officials staying there.
Mohammed Olad Hassan, a BBC World Service reporter who was with Peyton, said guards had not been told that the BBC party was leaving the hotel.
Hassan told the hearing – in a statement read by coroner Peter Dean – that the car the party was travelling in had to be parked on the roadside because the hotel compound was full.
“(The) security team were away from the vehicle. The hotel security fixer had not informed the security team or the driver in advance that we were coming out of the hotel – as I believe he should,” said Hassan. “We had to wait for the driver to open the door.”
He said Peyton, who was based in Johannesburg, South Africa, was standing on the road waiting to get into the car when she was hit in the back by a single shot. She died later in hospital.
The inquest heard that the hotel where the BBC team was staying had provided a driver and security escort which met the journalists at Mogadishu airport and travelled with them as they moved around the city.