Keith Hatfield: former ITN war correspondent

Keith Hatfield, one of ITN’s most courageous reporters of the past, has died at the age of 61.

He had joined ITN from Anglia Television as a reporter in 1967 – just before the launch of News at Ten.

Hatfield faced many dangers during his years as a war correspondent. The two most traumatic experiences, he once said, gave him a fear of empty garages. The first was in Northern Ireland where he was a frontline reporter from the Bogside in Londonderry from the start of the clashes between Republicans and Loyalists, which led to the intervention of the British Army in 1969. Out alone one night, in IRA territory, he came across a violent group about to tar and feather a young girl. He intervened and insisted they let her free.

Two angry men seized him, and after beating him, pushed him into a nearby empty garage where one stuck a revolver to his head while the other searched him for identification. It was only when they were satisfied he was who he had said he was, an ITN reporter, that they grudgingly let him go. He never knew the fate of the girl.

The other time was in 1974, when in Cyprus to report the Turkish invasion.

His ITN car was stopped by three Turkish deserters. Hatfield, along with his cameraman and sound recordist, were forced out at gunpoint and their wallets taken. They saw that the deserters’ bayonets were black with dried blood. Hatfield and his crew were herded into an empty garage, presumably to be disposed of.

But at that moment a Turkish tank turned a corner and the cameraman waved his arms to draw attention.

As the Turkish tank commander came over to investigate, the now terrified deserters tied white handkerchiefs to their bayonets. They were handcuffed and searched.

The achievement for which Hatfield will be most remembered came after the 1973 war between Israel and Egypt, when Egypt made a surprise attack across the Suez Canal as Israel was celebrating Yom Kippur. The Egyptian Army had progressed well into the Sinai Desert before the Israelis stopped their advance. The United Nations intervened and brokered a ceasefire.

It was then that Hatfield pointed out to the Egyptian High Command that viewers around the world had never seen how they had so triumphantly crossed the Suez. He kept pestering them until the Egyptians agreed to reenact the entire Suez crossing just for the benefit of ITN cameras.

Altogether 70,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks of the Egyptian Third Army were involved. At one stage Hatfield noted that the tanks were advancing with the sun behind them.

He called on the brigadier to halt his army so that they could move the cameras to get a better view.

Hatfield’s exclusive report made ten minutes on News at Ten. The next day a British Ministry of Defence press officer rang ITN’s editor, David Nicholas, to say that, as they watched, he and his colleagues in Whitehall had tried to calculate the cost of the exercise. After counting up to several million pounds, they gave up.

Hatfield died on May 20 2004. He had been divorced twice. A son and daughter survive him.

Frank Miles

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