A photographer from Northern Ireland has had part of his leg amputated after being seriously injured when the vehicle he was travelling was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan — an attack that also claimed the life of a journalist and a US marine.
Philip Coburn (43), from Larne, was working alongside Sunday Mirror defence correspondent Rupert Hamer (39), when the incident occurred.
The journalists were on patrol with the US Marine Corps when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by an improvised explosive device.
The blast, which also killed one Marine and seriously injured four others, brought to 18 the number of journalists who have died in Afghanistan since the invasion that followed the 9/11 attacks. It is the first time a British reporter has been killed in the conflict and Mr Hamer is the first UK correspondent to die in a war zone since the death of ITN's Terry Lloyd in Iraq in 2003.
Mr Hamer had three children. He had worked for the Sunday Mirror for 12 years and been its defence correspondent since 2004. He left Britain on New Year's Eve with Mr Coburn to spend a month embedded with American troops in Helmand, southern Afghanistan.
They had been approaching the village of Nawa in southern Helmand when the attack took place on Saturday afternoon. Mr Hamer died at the scene. Mr Coburn was evacuated to Camp Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan, for emergency surgery.
Mr Coburn, who has worked for the Sunday Mirror for the last eight years, is in a serious but stable condition and it is thought he may be flown back to the UK in the next few days.
Speaking from his home in Larne yesterday, his brother Nigel said: “I haven’t heard very much. We are just waiting by the phone for more news. One of his legs is broken as far as I know and the other one is amputated under the knee.
“We are all very shaken by what happened. We received the news this morning (Sunday) and we will wait to see how his condition improves. I think he is being flown into Birmingham soon and once that is confirmed we will go over there to see him.”
Mr Coburn’s girlfriend Alison Roberts said she had spoken to him a few times on the phone throughout the day and said, though he will recover well, he is devastated by the death of his colleague.
She confirmed that she was waiting for her partner to be flown to Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital where he will receive ongoing treatment for his injuries.
Colleagues and friends in the media paid tribute to their courage and professionalism. Tina Weaver, the editor of the Sunday Mirror, said Mr Hamer “believed that the only place to report a war was from the front line. He was a fine, fearless and skilled writer who joined the paper 12 years ago. Affectionately known as Corporal Hamer in the office, he was a gregarious figure, a wonderful friend”.
The Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, who knew both men, said Saturday's explosion had highlighted the dangers faced by reporters in war zones. “The sacrifice of service personnel is well documented,” he said, “but this news demonstrates the risks also faced by journalists.”
Col Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said the nature of reporting on the conflict meant it had been inevitable that a British journalist would eventually be killed. “Tragically, it was a matter of time,” he said.