'We feel like untouchables' say roaming reporters

The death of ITN reporter Terry Lloyd has made unilaterals “untouchables” as far as the coalition forces in Iraq are concerned, according to The Mail on Sunday’s Barbara Jones.

Unilaterals – the military term for journalists who are not embedded with troops – have found their ability to work curtailed, as British military police have sealed off the border between Kuwait and Iraq following the fate of Lloyd’s four-man crew and other incidents involving journalists.

Jones, who rescued Daniel Demoustier, the only one of Lloyd’s team to make it back to Kuwait, told Press Gazette that the Army was finding it “very exasperating” having to mount rescue missions for free-roaming journalists. “We get the strong feeling the unilateralists are the untouchables, a bloody nuisance,” she said.

A short time after picking up Demoustier, Jones heard that a group of 24 journalists were under siege by local people and of another incident in which Newsweek reporter Scott Johnson was left for dead by colleagues as they all came under shellfire (Johnson did not die and is now embedded with troops).

“It has made life extremely difficult and that is not to criticise Terry’s team at all,” said Jones. “I was an hour behind them and we were hearing the troops were going into Basra and they had taken Umm Qasr – everything was being talked up. We came into the country very cautiously and everywhere people were running around as if they had been liberated, waving white flags. We didn’t feel edgy at all. So we had every reason – and of course we looked back and re-examined what we did – to believe this area had been cleared.”

But it became clear that nowhere had been cleared, she said, adding: “Terry’s death was a wake-up call to us. We said: ‘Hang on a minute, this isn’t supposed to happen.'”

The MoS’s Africa correspondent had chosen not to be embedded because “that brings it’s own problems. I particularly didn’t want to be controlled or censored.

“The MoS has given me the compliment of making my own decisions. I have no intention of dying or being in any bad situations and they know I have got self-preservation instincts. If you’re on the ground, you must decide what it takes to get the story.”

Jones was full of praise for Demoustier: “He’s a real pro that guy, very cool. He said: ‘Don’t jeopardise your operation by taking me out because you won’t be able to get back in.’

“He had spent days trying to get in and so had we. So he knew what a big thing it was. He insisted on stopping at every checkpoint to tell British or American forces that there were people in trouble ahead and to please, please go and help them.

“Of course everyone said: ‘We’re on a mission; we are at war’ and he was frantic. No one in their right mind would have gone in.

“But he will be very angry about it because he is obsessed about trying to recover the others.”

After dropping Demoustier at the Kuwait border, Jones stopped at the side of the road to Nasiriyah to write her story but discovered she could not send pictures of him back to the MoS.

Heartbroken, she had to recross the border to return to the Kuwait Hilton to get them sent. She was even more devastated when a bomb squad blew up her BGAN, a vital piece of satellite kit, in the car park of the hotel when it fell off a porter’s trolley.

By Jean Morgan

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