My incredible, heroic father was Terry Lloyd, ITV News’s longest-serving war correspondent, who was killed in March 2003 by an American bullet to the back of his head as he lay wounded in a makeshift ambulance after a firefight.
His death, and those of two colleagues, were the first in ITN’s 48-year history and made headlines around the world. Our lives changed for ever. My hero, the man who we’d excitedly gather around our television to watch as he made his dispatches from the front line, would never come home.
Emotional: Chelsey Lloyd meets U.S. Marine Vince Hogan in a coffee shop in VirginiaExactly what happened that day, at the start of the Allied invasion, had been largely a mystery for our family, despite an inquest’s ruling that he had been unlawfully killed.
Now, terrified and shaking, I sat in a coffee shop in Norfolk, Virginia, waiting for a man who might finally answer my questions. It was torture. My heart raced and I struggled to fight back tears.
I had written to Lieut Hogan, pouring out my heart. He no longer serves in the military but I needed him to know I was just 21 when Dad died, and that my brother Oliver was only 11.
I told him I didn’t understand the theatre of war and I had sat through an inquest I didn’t understand.
What I didn’t tell him – what I have barely been able to acknowledge to anyone – is that I felt ashamed that my father was shot and killed, embarrassed that he failed to return after so many other successful trips to war zones all over the world.
On the front line: Terry Lloyd files his last report in March 2003, before being killed in a firefight later that dayI had never been able to understand how he allowed himself to get caught in a firefight. I suppose I was angry and could not forgive him for dying when he meant so much to us all.
To my enormous surprise, Vince replied and agreed to meet me.
When he walked through the cafe door, it was, for me, a heart-stopping moment. Here was the man who had been there the day my father died.
His order to fire had been a crucial part in the chain of events which resulted in Dad’s death. It would have been easy to hate him, to blame him. But, surprisingly, I found I couldn’t.
He was well-groomed, dark-haired and smartly dressed. I don’t quite know what I expected, but he was softly spoken and gentle and barely older than me. He said he was a father of two himself and wanted to help as much as he could. I believed him.
He looked as scared as me, so I got up to offer him a hand of reassurance. That simple, automatic act did not feel strange. This was not about retribution, because I just didn’t have that in me any more. What I needed was answers, and for that we had to establish a rapport.
Over the next four hours, he described to me in as much detail as he could what had happened that day. Patiently, he explained that his platoon’s objective was to ensure nothing came across the river. Seeing a pick-up truck approaching at high speed, with a rocket-propelled grenade on the back and about ten Iraqis pulling black ski-masks over their faces, was enough for him to give the order to fire. His men, he explained, were about to come under attack.
My father had been in one of two other vehicles travelling along the same road towards Basra. They had spotted the Iraqis and performed a swift U-turn, which took them towards the US tanks. Both vehicles were clearly marked ‘TV’.
Vince Hogan, a father of two himself, pictured during his time in the US MarinesDad was excited, I know that much. During a precious last phone call the night before, he had told Mum he hoped to be the first British journalist to reach Baghdad. He added: ‘Tell Chelsey I love her.’
So why couldn’t Vince see they were journalists? Couldn’t the platoon have fired warning shots? Vince explained he had been told all journalists in the area were embedded within the military. This meant he had reason to believe the TV trucks coming towards them were also full of Iraqi gunmen.
In other words, they had no choice but to fire. Painfully considerate, Vince drew on pieces of paper to show the positions of the vehicles and the directions in which they were travelling. For the first time, I was able to visualise the scene.
As both sides launched their attack, Dad was hit by an Iraqi bullet to the abdomen. His translator, Hussein Osman, was killed and the body of French cameraman Frederic Nerac has never been found. The jeep’s driver, cameraman Daniel Demoustier, leapt into a ditch. He was later rescued by Mail on Sunday reporter Barbara Jones, who was travelling along the same road.
But no one knows exactly what happened next to my dad – and Vince has been unable to explain his death.
After the initial battle, Dad was loaded on to a Mitsubishi driven by a passing Iraqi businessman, Hameed Ajlan, who was prepared to drive him to hospital in Basra. Within minutes, this vehicle was also fired upon and Dad received a fatal bullet wound to the back of the head.
A ballistics expert concluded this was an American bullet. Some reports suggested it came from a helicopter gunship, although this has never been proven.
Vince told me he has no recollection at all of his platoon firing on the Mitsubishi. He said he had asked the other men who were there and they do not remember either. It sounds hard to believe, but I trusted Vince was telling me the truth, based on how considerate he was. But that means I’ve had to accept I’ll never know the full reality of what happened that day. Yet I’ve got halfway there, and even that is huge.
It makes me feel so much closer to my father, being able to understand in some small way what his final hours were like. The sense of embarrassment which plagued me about his death has now gone. It was, as Vince told me, the perfect storm – and, after all, war is a messy game.
It also helped to know that Vince wasn’t dealing with it lightly in his own life. He told me he was sorry for what I’d been through.
‘There were a lot of engagements during the war but this is the one I come back to. It’s the only one I think about,’ he said. ‘Nobody wants to go to war. Nobody wants to kill the enemy. Certainly nobody wants to kill reporters. Things happen, but if you’d told me ten years ago, “Do you want to be sitting in a coffee shop with the daughter of a reporter killed during one of your engagements?” Absolutely not.’
That helped. It was a confession I never thought I’d hear. But what almost broke me was that Vince bought me a coffee. It sounds pathetic, but that small act of kindness by a man I could easily have hated blew me over.
Crucially, too, I came to an understanding. Could I blame Vince for engaging? No. Would I have done the same in his situation? Yes. I was finally allowing myself to accept the truth, no matter how much it hurt.
I was proud of Dad. Without him and all the other courageous journalists – ‘truthseekers’ I call them – who report the facts faithfully and impartially from the battlefield, we’d be ignorant of the reality of war.
I now work as a researcher for ITV’s morning show Lorraine and my clearest thought is that I need Dad now more than ever. I hate the fact I’m following in his footsteps and he’s not here to guide me. The things he would have taught me, the questions he could have answered and the stories he would have told me – they are all lost and I’m so sad for what could have been.
I try to look at his style of journalism. There was no jargon in his reports and I’m learning from that.
That’s partly why I decided to begin a journey to look again at his death, along with the ITV reporters who knew him. And that’s why, earlier this year, I travelled to Basra to retrace Dad’s last days, accompanied by Mark Austin – who also reported on the Iraq War in 2003 – and Daniel Demoustier, the cameraman who survived. For all of us, it was an emotional experience.
I went with an open mind, letting anger come to the surface or allowing myself to cry when needed.
I’d expected to hate everything about Iraq, but I was wrong. The people were some of the most hospitable I have ever met. The military and police are doing an incredible job stabilising the country so people can go about their daily lives. It was an honour to have been there.
I felt closer to Dad, being in the country where he was killed. I was trying to absorb what he saw that day. I wanted a sense of how he was feeling, what he wanted from it.
I’d heard him describe the desert, but never really understood. Now I knew. I stood there for an hour, expecting to cry but strangely I was shrouded in peace and comfort. It’s nothing more than a building site that goes on for miles. It was no place to die. It was full of rubble, dirt, dust and rubbish. But I’d go back in a heartbeat.
I’m hoping that what I have found has given both Ollie and Mum reassurance about why the Americans initially fired. What I learned from Vince has helped, although we can’t escape the fact that a coroner has ruled Dad was shot unlawfully.
It will be a difficult tenth anniversary. I wish my dad could see how I’ve changed over the years. And every time I hear about another explosion or incident in Iraq, I know this is a tragedy I’ll never escape.
Who Killed My Dad? The Death Of Terry Lloyd, will be shown on ITV on Thursday at 10.35pm.