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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December, 2004, 16:17 GMT
Bonding with the Bigleys
By Catherine Marston
North of England correspondent

Even in times of extraordinary grief, the BBC has to report the news. Here, Catherine Marston explains how she liaised with the family of murdered British hostage Ken Bigley and describes their amazing courage.

Lil Bigley
Ken Bigley's mother Lil is "a dignified and remarkable woman"

"If I'd known I'd be doing this, I would have got my hair done yesterday!"

At first that seemed a strange remark from a mother about to make a desperate appeal for her son's life.

But 86-year-old Lil Bigley is a dignified and remarkable lady, with a true Liverpudlian sense of humour. She wasn't worried about her hair at all.

That's when I first met the Bigley family. On the day they decided to make a direct appeal to Ken's captors.

It was all arranged in secret through the Foreign Office. Only the BBC was invited to attend.

Friendly greeting

Taken to Merseyside police headquarters, I walked into a faceless room where one very ordinary family greeted me like a friend.

Phil, Ken's brother was in charge of things. Organised and efficient, the strength of the family.

"Let me introduce you to Mum," he said, and with that Lil grabbed hold of my hand.

People like the Bigley family are the reason I'm a journalist
Catherine Marston

Chatting to her that day, the enormity of what she and her family were dealing with really hit me.

Ken had been shown on television begging the prime minister to help him.

The Bigley family were facing something beyond comprehension. They were desperate. So desperate that frail and poorly Lil was prepared to make a statement.

It took several attempts. She cried, as we all knew she would. She apologised for it. I knew she'd do that, too.

She insisted we use the pictures of her upset as she talked about the unique bond between a parent and a child. She wanted the world to know.

BBC's firm stance

That meeting with the Bigleys was to be only my first. But it's one I will never forget.

The BBC took a very firm stance on how we were to deal with the family.

We were the only news organisation not to be sitting right on the family doorstep. Instead, we kept our distance far down the road.

British hostage Ken Bigley seen on a video aired by Al-Jazeera
Ken Bigley, pictured here in his cell, was murdered in October

We only sent texts to their police liaison officer. He'd told us the family's hearts leapt every time the phone rang. We didn't want to add to their trauma.

All simple things, but they made such a difference to the Bigleys. They felt we'd respected their privacy - as much as is possible in these circumstances, anyway.

The following week I discovered the Bigleys were on their way to London to meet Jack Straw and Muslim leaders.

They didn't want all the media to know, but it made sense for me to follow them down.

The Foreign Office felt that if the family wanted to talk, they'd want to speak to a reporter they knew.

I met the family - Phil, Stan and Craig, Ken's son - after their meeting with Muslim leaders.

Again the family greeted me warmly. "Last week we were just dealing with the emotions," Phil explained. "This week the reality has set in."

From the heart

I spent about an hour with them all. Phil decided to "speak from the heart".

He chose to ditch the carefully prepared statement he'd worked on with his liaison officers. What he said was emotional and upsetting.

He described the torment of his family and their determination never to give up hope. "We can't do that, it would be like giving up on Ken," he said.

I left that day again feeling uplifted by the Bigleys' incredible spirit, but desperately sad too.

Getting to know the family, winning their trust, felt like a real privilege but also a huge responsibility. I found it impossible not to feel emotionally involved with them.

The final time we met was just 20 minutes after they'd received news that Ken had been murdered.

In the most unlikely setting of a conference room at York race course, I was to interview Phil and Stan.

The Foreign Office had again organised it. The family had asked for me.

Incredible dignity

As soon as I walked in Stan came over and gave me a big hug. "You want to watch him," said Phil, "he's from Wigan."

The room erupted into laughter. So typical of the Bigleys to share a joke. It was something I'd come to expect.

People sign the book of condolence for Ken Bigley
Ken Bigley came from the Walton area of Liverpool

So, too, was their incredible dignity. The brothers read a statement each, Phil giving the first official confirmation that Ken was indeed dead.

The family had wanted to be the ones to deliver that news. They both fought back the tears but their utter anguish was etched on their faces.

They spoke of a real family man, with a good heart and a great sense of humour.

After the statements were over, I spent a few minutes with Stan and Phil.

Saying our goodbyes, Stan told me a bit of a family secret.

"Ken used to be a model you know," he said, full of pride. "For Burtons."

Once again the room was full of laughter. "Yep, he was a good-looking chap."

People always want to ask journalists who is the most famous person they've interviewed.

In my case, it's Victoria Wood.

But the truth is that people like the Bigley family are the reason I'm a journalist.


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