It had been an uncomfortable night of fitful sleep in a small tent pitched unconvincingly in the desert sand close to the Kuwait-Iraq border.
The unmistakeable racket of Chinook helicopters had made proper rest impossible. Thunderous above us one moment, rumbling into the distance the next. There is no other sound like it. And it was the sound that told us the war had begun.
My ITN team and I emerged from our tents at the first hint of light. This was a day we had prepared for and, if I’m honest, agonised over, for weeks. We were apprehensive, fearful even, and yet excited, too. We were about to cross the border into Iraq.
And then we made the call. The final check with the London newsdesk on our satellite telephone. It was our producer, Derl, who made it. I thought it was a formality. It was no such thing.
“They say, whatever we do we must not cross the border. Under no circumstances,” said Derl. They didn’t say why. I phoned them back, angry and frustrated. Then they told me. Our friend and ITN colleague, Terry Lloyd, was missing feared dead after an incident near a bridge on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
Also missing, but never to be found, was our French cameraman Fred Nérac, a great companion with whom I had worked on several occasions, and Hussein Osman, a wise, hard-working Lebanese “fixer” I had first met just days before in Kuwait.
It was shattering news. It was ten years ago this week and the worst day of my professional life.
I had spoken to Terry the night before. He explained in some excitement how they had just crossed the border and were camping out close to the reassuring presence of the 7th Armoured Brigade. Now, a few hours later, he was dead.
It was, of course, a devastating blow to all of us at ITN. But for Terry’s family – wife Lynn, son Oliver, then just 11, and daughter Chelsey, 21 – it was nothing short of a life-changing tragedy.
As the story of what happened emerged, so did the questions. Terry and his team, travelling in two 4×4 vehicles clearly marked as “TV”, were being pursued by an Iraqi pickup truck with a mounted machine gun. All three vehicles were then fired upon by American troops. Terry was injured either during that exchange or subsequently.
He was later picked up by a makeshift ambulance, which, according to an inquest in 2006, also came under fire from American troops. It was these shots that killed him, the inquest decided, and a verdict of “unlawful killing” was returned.
Terry’s wife called it a war crime, Chelsey demanded justice, the coroner and ITN were anxious that the American marines involved should be held to account.
But the American authorities blocked and stalled, British prosecutors ruled there was insufficient evidence to take the matter any further and there have been no trials, no courts martial and no closure. Tragically for the Nérac family, Fred’s body has never been found.
Now, a decade on, I have returned to southern Iraq – to the scene of the killing – to make a film with Chelsey. It was a journey she was desperate to make. It was, as she put it, her chance to “make sense of it all”. It was also the opportunity to try to find answers to some of the many questions about the killings that still remain.
We began the journey, just as Terry had, in Kuwait. We stayed at the same hotel and drove along the same desert road towards Iraq.
We reached Abdaly Farms, the tomato-growing area close to the border where Terry’s team had holed up for the night before crossing. They had to evade Kuwaiti security forces and he had filed his last report from here.
Chelsey looked around at the dusty fields and rusting farm equipment, the tarpaulins covering the crops flapping in the breeze.
“I think I almost feel like he would have been feeling,” she said. “He knew it would be dangerous but at that time, on that day, there was no other place he would have wanted to be.”
Terry and I both knew the danger. Some journalists covering the war were “embedded” with British or US forces. Under their protection but also under their control and censorship.
But Terry and I were operating on our own, unilaterally. The Ministry of Defence did everything they could to dissuade us from entering Iraq. They wanted total control of the reports coming out. So we had to make our own decisions about where to go and when.
Terry knew exactly where he wanted to go… Basra. Chelsey and I followed his journey across the border into Iraq and on towards the city.
We soon reached the bridge and stopped at the place where the shooting happened, now a fast-flowing dual carriageway edged with breeze-block homes, Iraqi flags and street vendors.
Outside, the wind was howling, the traffic noisy. Chelsey turned up her collar against the cold and stood there, a tear in her eye. “This is no place to die… no place at all,” she said.
Daniel Demoustier, the Belgian cameraman who was with Terry in one of the TV vehicles and who somehow survived that day, was with us and told Chelsey what happened.
He described the gunfire starting, the windscreen shattering, bullets ripping through the dashboard. He told us that he looked over and Terry was no longer in the vehicle. Then the 4×4 burst into flames and he never saw him again. Demoustier himself dived out and lay in a gully until the firing stopped. It was some time later that Terry’s body was found at a Basra hospital and recovered for his family.
Chelsey struggled to take it all in. She listened and looked and stayed there for over an hour. And she knew her journey could not end there.
She wanted to know why the Americans shot at the TV cars in the first place, why they’d attacked a makeshift ambulance… questions she hoped one man could answer.
US Marine Lieutenant Vince Hogan was commander of Red Platoon, Delta Company, on that fateful day, and had been responsible for four tanks and 15 men.
Chelsey had wanted to confront him for six or seven years. She had wanted him prosecuted. In the years that passed it had been impossible to get him to say much at all. But in the past few months things have changed. Through letters, emails and eventually a long phone call it became clear that he was, maybe, prepared to give his account of events. But not on camera. Rather he would speak alone with Chelsey.
And so it was that in a coffee shop in Norfolk, Virginia, about four hours drive from Washington DC, they talked for three hours about what happened on that fateful day and why.
Hogan, a softly spoken father of two, wanted to help her. He gave his side of the story: how the three vehicles approached at speed, how the soldiers on the pickup had a rocket propelled grenade and ski masks pulled over their faces. How he had no choice but to give the order to open fire and how he would do the same again.
But of the attack on the makeshift ambulance that picked up Terry he said he and his men had no knowledge. No knowledge at all.
Briefly speaking to me after his meeting with Chelsey, he insisted he could not be held to blame as he had been sure his men were about to be attacked. He said he was involved in several firefights during the war, but this was the only one that he still thinks about because of what happened to Terry, Fred and Hussein.
Chelsey, no longer consumed by a desire for vengeance, hugged Hogan before he left.
She was no further forward in the search to find exactly who killed her father. No closer to what she would consider justice. But her trip had brought a kind of peace, a sort of closure.
If she wanted simply to understand what happened, now she does. Just a little bit more. And she’s thankful for that.
Who Killed My Dad? – the Death of Terry Lloyd is tonight at 10:35pm on ITV