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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 May, 2003, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Blair urges BBC to cut Iraq film
Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth and Sapper Luke Allsopp
The soldiers were members of a bomb disposal team
Prime Minister Tony Blair has joined calls for the BBC to cut footage of two dead British soldiers from a documentary about the war in Iraq.

Mr Blair's spokesman urged the corporation not to broadcast clips of the bodies of Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, and Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, after relatives of the soldiers said to do so would be "absolutely devastating for the families".

The call from Downing Street was backed by Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who urged the BBC to "put the families first".

We fully endorse what the Ministry of Defence have said and support their decision to ask the BBC to reconsider and not broadcast this footage
Downing Street spokeswoman
But a BBC spokesman said that although the corporation understood the families' concerns, it was going ahead with the BBC2 Correspondent programme on Sunday.

It has been suggested that Sgt Cullingworth, from Essex, and Sapper Allsopp, from north London, were executed when their Land Rover was ambushed in Iraq on 23 March.

Their bodies were later found in a shallow grave near Al Zubayr, outside Iraq's second city of Basra.


Footage of the dead men lying near their vehicle was broadcast on Arab TV station Al Jazeera, prompting condemnation in Britain.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We have said to any television station showing pictures of soldiers injured or killed, the media should respect the feelings of families, especially at what must be a very difficult time for them.

"We fully endorse what the Ministry of Defence have said and support their decision to ask the BBC to reconsider and not broadcast this footage."

The BBC's cameras were there to reveal how the war was being covered from an Arab perspective

Mr Duncan Smith added his weight to the demand and told The Sun newspaper: "I call on the BBC to step back from this decision and to put the families, and those who have lost their lives in the service of their country, first.

"They should not forget that these are real families, real lives and real tragedies."

'Sensitively covered'

But a BBC spokeswoman said: "We remained deeply sympathetic to the feelings of anyone who has lost family or friends in Iraq, however, we believe the subject covered is in the public interest.

"From the beginning, the BBC kept the MoD informed of the content of the programme, and at the request of the MoD, they informed the families of the BBC's plans.

"Correspondent is an award-winning series, renowned for covering subjects sensitively and in great depth.

Wounded Al-Jazeera journalist
Al-Jazeera journalists help a wounded colleague
"It has covered the war in Iraq from various angles and this programme was one more piece in the jigsaw of this complicated subject.

"The programme deals with the differences in coverage of the war between the Arab world and the West, and the treatment of Prisoners of War and casualties on both sides is central to the argument.

"Therefore, in the context of the programme, we believe that the short clip being shown, with footage of the soldiers heavily disguised, was in the public interest."

'Very upset'

The broadcast date was changed when the BBC found out that it coincided with the funerals of some of the soldiers killed in the war.

But Simon Cullingworth's wife Alison criticised the decision.

She told The Sun: "As a mother of young sons, I'm very upset and annoyed the BBC should show the film of Simon and Luke at this time of great sadness for my family."

The two soldiers, who both came from Essex, were members of a bomb disposal unit of the 33 (EOD) Engineer Regiment.

They went missing on 23 March after an attack near Al Zubayr, although the exact circumstances of their deaths are not yet known.

Lieutenant Colonel Tony Troulan, the soldiers' commanding officer, said: "All I would say to the people at the BBC is that, if it was your husband's body lying in the dirt, being bayed over by an unruly mob, would you want that footage shown?"

The BBC2 Correspondent programme explores the influence of Al-Jazeera and the differences in reporting between the Arab media and the West.

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21 Apr 03  |  England


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