Jack Straw leads warm tributes to a 'larger-than-life' character

Simon Cumbers, the BBC cameraman shot dead in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, was described by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, as a "larger than life" character

Simon Cumbers, the BBC cameraman shot dead in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, was described by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, as a "larger than life" character.

Born in Navan, Co Meath, in the Irish Republic, he was described as "a happy-go-lucky chap" and "a talented middle-distance runner" during his time at the local St Patrick's secondary school. After starting as a journalist at his local newspaper, The Weekender, in the 1980s, Mr Cumbersbecame a radio reporter in Ireland and later a television correspondent for ITN before he crossed over to camerawork.

A BBC spokesman said: "His unusual mix of technical expertise coupled with a journalistic background was at the heart of his success."

Working as a freelancer, he operated throughout the world for news outlets including the BBC, Associated Press Television and ITN, covering stories such as the Omagh bombing, the Good Friday Agreement and disturbances at Drumcree.

In 1998 he set up his own company, Locum Productions, with his wife, Louise Bevan, a fellow journalist with wide experience, including several years with TV-am, covering the Gulf War from Israel in 1991 as well as the build-up to war in Iraq.

The company was set up to cover the newsgathering needs of British and international broadcasters by providing experienced, multi-skilled camera crews and editors, producers and reporters. Mr Cumbers continued to work around the globe filming and editing on news events for international broadcasters. He was also involved in longer format, current affairs programmes.

However dangerous his assignments, Mr Cumbers was convinced that journalists should never be armed. In January this year, during a debate on the security of war reporters, he argued passionately against the idea of journalists carrying weapons.

Downing Street led the tributes to Mr Cumbers yesterday. Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "For those of us who came across Simon in his work, we know that he was a decent man."

Mr Straw said that Mr Cumbers was a "great guy" whom he respected from travelling with him on trips. "He was in many ways larger than life and kept the rest of us entertained. It makes his death all the more tragic and poignant."

Stewart Purvis, chief executive of ITN at the time when Mr Cumbers worked for the organisation, described him as a very ambitious reporter with "tons of enthusiasm and also tons of good ideas".

Mr Purvis added: "He had a wonderful sense of humour, he was just good fun around the newsroom and I think that is how he will be remembered by those who worked with him here."

His widow is on compassionate leave from her jobs at Radio 5 Live and BBC News 24.

Mr Cumbers, who was 36, also leaves behind his parents Brona and Bob, and his siblings Stephen, Caitriona and Eimear.

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