Legal action against BBC 'not ruled out'

THE family of a BBC journalist shot dead in one of the world's most dangerous countries said last night they may take legal action against the corporation.

Laurence Cawley

THE family of a BBC journalist shot dead in one of the world's most dangerous countries said last night they may take legal action against the corporation.

Producer Kate Peyton, 39, from Beyton, near Bury St Edmunds, was shot outside a hotel in the war-torn Somali capital Mogadishu in February 2005.

Following an inquest this week into her death - which heard she had felt pressured into taking on the assignment to keep her job - Miss Peyton's sister claimed the BBC had treated them with “contempt” and compared the corporation to “a bad parent”.

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Rebecca Peyton, an actress, said the family had not ruled out taking legal action against the BBC in connection with her sister's death.

Miss Peyton said they were determined to make sure stringent safety assessments were carried out whenever journalists were sent to the world's trouble spots and that they undertook assignments without fearing they might lose their jobs if they did not.

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She claimed the BBC's handling of the situation since her sister's death had been “litigious” and said the corporation feared legal action being brought against it by the family.

“They (the BBC) have contempt for us. They have cared so much more about the legal process than they have about how we have felt. They are worried about litigation and PR (public relations).”

Miss Peyton compared the BBC to a “bad parent” which did not like to be questioned about its policies or procedures.

“The most important thing is the journalists, some of whom are not working for the BBC - nobody is looking out for those people and often, without even knowing what they are doing, news organisations are exploiting the fears that those people have. It is something that has to be talked about.”

Her brother Charles Peyton urged the BBC and other news organisations to do all they could to minimise the risk of a similar death.

The BBC last night declined to comment on the possibility of the Peyton family taking legal action against it. However, the corporation strongly refuted the family's claims about its handling of the situation in the aftermath of Miss Peyton's murder.

“This was a terrible tragedy and our sympathies are with Kate's family,” a spokeswoman for the BBC said. “Safety policy is something which continually develops and we have said that we will take into account what the coroner has said. We take our duty of care to the family very seriously.

“The provision of help and assistance has always been expressly available and we did all we could immediately after Kate's death to offer them support.

“The BBC will now reiterate the INSI (International News Safety Institute) code we helped develop, and which is our current policy, to all staff. This says that assignments to war and other danger zones are voluntary and that no career should suffer as a result of refusing a dangerous assignment. We have always supported that principle and will continue to do so.”

Miss Peyton, who was based in Johannesburg, South Africa, died hours after arriving in Mogadishu, Somalia, in February 2005, to produce television and radio reports on the country's ongoing crisis.

During the three-day inquest held earlier this week, it emerged she did not want to go but felt under pressure to accept the assignment because she was worried about not having her contract renewed.

Great Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean said: “It is clear on the evidence we have heard that Kate didn't want to go to Mogadishu. What is also abundantly clear is that she only took the assignment because she felt if she didn't take the assignment, the chances of getting that contract renewed would be damaged and she needed that contract for personal reasons.

He praised the BBC's risk assessment procedures as “good” and “careful” but said he hoped that evidence aired at the inquest would help prevent future tragedies.

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