'The BBC played hardball over Kate's death,' says brother

Broadcaster tried to limit the scope of the inquiry into correspondent's shooting.

Matthew Bell
Sunday 30 November 2008 01:00 GMT

There is currently nowhere more dangerous for a foreign journalist than Somalia. Last week a reporter and a photographer, thought to be working for The Daily Telegraph, were kidnapped, while two freelance journalists, a Canadian and an Australian, have been held since August. Scores of Somalian journalists have been murdered or have disappeared since the early 1990s.

So the story of Kate Peyton, a BBC producer who was shot dead within hours of arriving in Mogadishu in 2005, although tragic, certainly came as no surprise. Being a foreign correspondent is dangerous, goes the argument: what do you expect if you go into a category one danger zone?

But following last week's inquest into Peyton's death, which returned a verdict of unlawful killing, it's clear she was far from the typical adrenalin-addicted foreign correspondent in pursuit of glory. Stationed in the BBC's Johannesburg bureau, Peyton was a 39-year-old producer interested primarily in human-interest stories. She had recently got engaged to her cameraman boyfriend Roger, who had moved from Kinshasa to Johannesburg to begin their new life together. A few weeks previously she had adopted his eight-year-old daughter, Chloe, who spoke almost no English. Her 65-year-old mother, Angela, was visiting from England.

On the morning of Friday 4 February 2005, Johannesburg bureau chief Milton Nkosi summoned Peyton to his office and gave her a pep talk, saying he was concerned about her lack of focus. According to Peyton's family, she had grown disillusioned. But, having just gained two dependents in her life, Peyton was hoping to be granted an extension to her contract when it came up for renewal six months later.

So when an email landed in her inbox from Nkosi that afternoon, asking for her thoughts on a trip to Somalia to make a number of colour features for the World Service, Peyton was faced with a tough decision. The timing couldn't have been worse for her personally; but professionally it was a chance to prove herself and secure a new contract. Four and a half days later Peyton flew into Somalia; two hours after landing she was dead.

According to Aidan Hartley, a former Reuters correspondent who earlier this year survived a roadside bomb explosion in Mogadishu, in his opinion this was not enough time to prepare. "Before I go to Mogadishu, I spend literally months planning. I spend a lot of time reading up on the precise state of affairs and developing contacts. The BBC has an obligation to send people into Somalia, as it's an important story, but you can't just go charging in there."

When Peyton's family asked the BBC to investigate Nkosi's role in sending Kate to Somalia, they were told it was "neither necessary nor appropriate", pointing out that the BBC's high-risk team in London had cleared the trip, according to standard procedure. "After Kate's death, lots of BBC colleagues were very sympathetic," says Charles Peyton, her brother, "but as soon as it became a legal issue the BBC played hardball."

Once the case had been referred to the coroner, the BBC sought to limit the scope of the inquiry. In a series of letters to Ipswich coroner, Peter Dean, seen by The Independent on Sunday, the BBC's lawyers claimed the circumstances leading to Peyton going to Somalia were not relevant to how she died. They did not want the coroner to consider whether Peyton felt under pressure to go, which, at the end of last week's inquest, Dean concluded was "abundantly clear" she did. "We couldn't believe how much money the BBC put into trying to block the inquest," says Peyton.

The BBC's risk assessment procedure was, however, found to have been "good" and "careful". Peyton had been on a hostile-environment training course the year before. "The BBC has an exemplary record in this area and it sets the bar very high in the area of news safety," says Aidan White, president of the International Federation of Journalists. "But when gaps appear in the system, they appear vividly. And it is imperative, when taking a risk assessment, to take account of a person's state of mind. There is no doubt that Kate was worried about her job prospects. When somebody's job is on the line they will tend to push safety to one side. A flaw has been revealed in the BBC's procedure: they failed to take account of her personal circumstances."

The ultimate cause of Peyton's death was a combination of bad luck and momentary carelessness. She was killed by a gunman, having stepped out of the compound without her armed protection officers. "She should not have been standing in the street," says Hartley. "She should not have made the decision to leave the compound."

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