Gordon Brown led tributes today to Sunday Mirror defence correspondent Rupert Hamer who has been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister praised Hamer’s “courage, skill and dedication”, while colleagues said he was “hugely popular”.
Hamer, 39, who was married with three young children, died of his wounds at the scene north-west of Nawa.
He is the first British journalist to be killed in the current conflict in Afghanistan.
The newspaper’s photographer, Philip Coburn, was injured in yesterday’s blast, which also killed a US Marine and an Afghan soldier, the MoD said.
Coburn, 43, is in a serious but stable condition, the MoD said.
He and Hamer were embedded with the US Marine Corps when they were caught in the explosion.
They were accompanying a patrol when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
According to the Sunday Mirror, the experienced pair flew to the region on New Year’s Eve for a trip scheduled to last a month.
He wanted to be embedded with the US marines at the start of their surge into southern Afghanistan.
Hamer, who was married to Helen, had three children, aged six, five and 19 months and had worked for the newspaper for 12 years, taking on the defence correspondent role in 2004.
Coburn has been at the Sunday Mirror for eight years.
In response to Hamer’s death and Coburn’s injuries, Brown said: “I was deeply saddened by this tragic news, and my heartfelt thoughts and sympathies are with the families, friends and colleagues of Rupert and Philip.
“Their courage, skill and dedication to reporting from the frontline was incredibly important and ensured that the world could see and read about our heroic troops.
“Their professionalism and commitment to our forces will not be forgotten.”
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said Hamer and Coburn covered his last trip to Afghanistan.
He said: “I got to know them well and I was impressed by their hard work and professionalism.
“My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families, friends and colleagues of both men at this extremely distressing time.
“As a defence correspondent, Rupert Hamer was in regular contact with press officers at the MoD.
“I know they had great respect for his work and the news of his death has been met with great sadness amongst us all.”
One of Hamer’s last assignments was organising a special Christmas edition of the paper with messages from loved ones, which was sent to troops three weeks ago.
“The paper was very well received by troops on the ground and its success is testament both to Rupert’s hard work and his understanding of service personnel,” Ainsworth said.
“The sacrifice of service personnel is well documented and rightly respected, but this news demonstrates the risks also faced by journalists who keep the public informed of events on the frontline.”
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he was “deeply saddened”, adding: “Rupert Hamer died in the course of important work informing the world about the situation in Afghanistan.
“I pay tribute to his efforts, and those of Philip Coburn, undertaken in the most dangerous of circumstances.”
Hamer believed the only place to report a war was from the front line, according to Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver, who said: “He was a seasoned, highly-regarded and brave journalist who had reported from both Iraq and Afghanistan on many occasions.
“It was his fifth trip to Afghanistan, and he had forged friendships with a number of the soldiers serving out there.”
She said Hamer earned the nickname “Corporal Hamer” by fellow Sunday Mirror staff.
“He was a fine, fearless, and skilled writer who joined the paper 12 years ago,” she added. “Affectionately known as Corporal Hamer in the office, he was a gregarious figure, a wonderful friend who was hugely popular with his colleagues.
“Above all he was devoted to his wife Helen and their three young children.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with Helen, his father Nick, who he was so close to, and the children he was so proud of.”
She described Coburn as a “consummate all round journalist and brilliant photographer”.
She added: “He and Rupert made a dedicated team, working together around the world, sacrificing personal comfort countless times to record the reality of wars.
“We wish Phil a speedy recovery and send our warmest wishes to his partner and family.”
Former British forces commander Colonel Richard Kemp told Sky News Hamer was very well liked by the troops he worked alongside.
He said: “He was a very, very professional journalist, an extremely experienced war correspondent with a lot of active service in Afghanistan and Iraq serving alongside and working reporting with British services and other Nato allies.
“He had a lot of integrity and would take no prisoners in pursuit of a story but what I would say is that he was extremely well-liked and respected by the soldiers he worked with.
“Soldiers and journalists don’t always necessarily get on well together, they have very different jobs to do, but that wasn’t the case for Rupert. He was very well respected by everybody he worked with, I never heard a bad word said about him.”
He said it was important for journalists to visit war zones, because they “wouldn’t hesitate to expose difficulties” and this could make conditions better for troops.
Col Kemp went on: “It’s a hazard of war and war correspondents sign up for this kind of risk, knowing what this kind of risk is. I hope it does not discourage too many others from going out there. Certainly it will put this risk into very stark reality but it’s essential we have independent reporters going out on to the frontline, seeing what our troops are doing, reporting what’s going on, reporting the reality of the situation in a way that can be understood by the British public.”
Tory leader David Cameron said: “I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Sunday Mirror’s defence correspondent Rupert Hamer.
“British journalists regularly risk their own safety to report on the war in Afghanistan.
“Their job is a crucial one and their bravery is to be admired.
“My condolences go to Rupert’s family – especially his wife Helen and their three young children.
“I’d also like to wish Philip Coburn who was badly injured alongside Rupert a speedy recovery.
“Our thoughts are also with the American and Afghan soldiers who died in the incident.”