Northumberland photographer tells of working in war zone with Marie Colvin

A NORTHUMBERLAND photojournalist who worked in a war zone with a reporter killed in Syria has recalled the times they risked their lives together.

Marie Colvin who was killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs

A NORTHUMBERLAND photojournalist who worked in a war zone with a reporter killed in Syria has recalled the times they risked their lives together.

Tom Stoddart, who spent his early years in the Berwick area, worked with Marie Colvin in Beirut, Lebanon.

Ms Colvin, a US citizen who worked for The Sunday Times, was killed during shelling in the city of Homs on Wednesday.

Mr Stoddart, who now lives in Darras Hall, Ponteland, last night paid tribute to her, and recollected the dangers they encountered together in 1987.

Ms Colvin was then a staff reporter with the London newspaper while Mr Stoddart was employed on a short-term contract.

At the time, during Lebanon’s civil war, a Palestinian camp called Bourj al Brajneh was being besieged by pro-Syrian forces and tanks.

Doctor Pauline Cutting and Scottish nurse Susie Wighton had been held there for five months. No journalists had managed to gain entry.

Mr Stoddart, now 58, recalls: “Marie and I decided we had to get inside the camp and we negotiated with a Syrian commander, to guarantee that these men would not shoot us, but we had no idea whether they would keep their word.

“We held hands and ran across this no-man’s land between the fighters on the outside and the Palestinian fighters on the inside.

“We could not warn the fighters on the inside we were coming. The chances were if one side did not shoot us, the other side would. We made the run and got into the camp.”

Mr Stoddart and Ms Colvin covered the story of people dying in horrific conditions, with him photographing a woman who had been shot while trying to get food and her picking up “amazing” stories. The duo fled the same way they got in. Ms Colvin smuggled out, in her underwear, a letter from those inside to the Queen appealing for international help, as well as Mr Stoddart’s film.

Photojournalist Tom Stoddart

The duo’s world exclusive work made international headlines and weeks later the Syrian government lifted the siege on the camp.

Ms Colvin was killed on Wednesday alongside French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, who Mr Stoddart described as “brilliant”, after shells reportedly hit a makeshift media centre.

A French journalist also wounded in the shelling yesterday pleaded with her government to evacuate her so she can have an operation.

In a video on YouTube, Edith Bouvier said her leg was broken in two places and that she has received some medical treatment but needs an operation.

She was calm throughout the six-and-a-half minute video, even smiling. Explosions can be heard in the background.

She and a colleague appear to be with a doctor and Syrian rebels, who ask the journalists to say they are being treated well but need to leave since they can no longer be cared for.

Prime Minister David Cameron described Ms Colvin as an “absolute giant” of a journalist yesterday and blamed her death directly on the regime of Syria’s president Bashar Assad.

“It’s absolutely vital that the international community comes together, does this work, sends this message and I hope that the foreign ministers meeting in Tunis tomorrow will back that up as strongly as they can,” he said in London.

Foreign Secretary William Hague will join representatives of more than 70 nations in Tunisia’s capital today to discuss how to end the violence.

Mr Stoddart described Ms Colvin as a “great human being” and “simply the best” in journalism, with a reputation for telling the truth.

He was born at Beadnell, went to school at Seahouses and later worked as a photographer for the Berwick Advertiser, before going freelance. He now works with Getty Images.

 
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