MoD finally sanctions investigation into missing camera crew

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The Independent Online

The Ministry of Defence has belatedly sanctioned an official investigation into the disappearance of two members of an ITN camera crew during the war in Iraq.

Fred Nerac, a French cameraman, and Hussein Osman, his Lebanese translator, have not been seen since an exchange of fire between Iraqi and Allied forces on 22 March, in which the ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd was killed. For more than two months, colleagues of the missing men have been scouring Iraq in an effort to locate them. Mr Lloyd was found dead in Iraq and brought home.

The ITN investigation has been hampered by a lack of co-operation from the military authorities. ITN executives wrote to the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, to complain that British forces - who control the area of Iraq where the men went missing - had said they were unable to assist. Mr Hoon responded by saying that he could not get involved without evidence of a war crime.

But last night, the MoD confirmed that the Royal Military Police had been instructed to start an investigation. Mark Wood, ITN's chairman, said: "We welcome Mr Hoon's decision to give us the help we so desperately need to find out what happened to Fred and Hussein. We have found out a good deal ourselves, but we need the skills and experience that only the Royal Military Police can offer to conduct a full and formal investigation.

"We will of course provide the MoD with any assistance and information they may need from us to aid their inquiry."

The ITN investigation has produced evidence to suggest that the two men may not have been killed in the firefight, as was originally thought. Colleagues believe the pair may have been abducted from their vehicle shortly before the fighting broke out.

The press passes, which the pair would normally have worn around their necks, were recovered from offices being used by officials from Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in the town of Zubayr, near Basra.

The US military has already opened an investigation into the incident, after M. Nerac's wife, Fabienne, lobbied Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State, for help.

Earlier this month, foreign and defence ministers arriving for EU talks in Brussels were greeted by a protest of media staff demanding action from the British Government.