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Glowing tributes to ex-Tele man Des McCartan after tragic death

By Noel McAdam

Alastair Campbell yesterday led tributes to former Belfast Telegraph Westminster correspondent Des McCartan, who has died after an accident.

Mr McCartan fractured his skull in a fall on March 22, the day of the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.

He was taken to St Mary's Hospital in west London, which was also treating people injured by Khalid Masood.

Mr McCartan never regained consciousness and his life support was removed a week later.

The former Westminster correspondent left the Belfast Telegraph in 2001 to work for the Labour Party's Robin Cook, who at that point was Leader of the House of Commons and had been Foreign Secretary.

But he would already have been well known to Mr Campbell, who had been involved in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.

Former Labour spin doctor Mr Campbell, who was a political correspondent for another newspaper, said: "I am so sad to hear of Des's death. He was a fine journalist and a good man. He was a kind, courteous and helpful colleague when I was a fellow lobby reporter, and someone who was always straight and good-natured when I dealt with him as Tony Blair's press secretary.

"He was acutely aware of the special place in the politics of Northern Ireland that the Bel Tel had, and he took real care over what he reported and thought deeply about the impact his reporting could have. He cared deeply about the story because he cared deeply about where he came from."

Belfast Telegraph Editor Gail Walker added: "Over many years of momentous incidents and historic upheaval in Parliament and at home, Des provided a steady analysis in every sense - measured, balanced, insightful and authoritative.

"In a profession often wrongly caricatured, he was one of those journalists who went about their work quietly, credibly and with huge integrity.

"Des was also a wonderfully warm and decent human being, qualities which helped him to build an enviable network of contacts and endeared him to many younger journalists, including myself, whom he mentored with great generosity of time, spirit and friendship. He was vastly respected and will be very much missed by his colleagues in this newspaper and elsewhere."

Journalists and political party officials lined up last night to pay their respects on social media, along with three former editors of the Belfast Telegraph who worked with Mr McCartan.

UTV political editor Ken Reid said: "When I started working in Westminster on a regular basis, he was my mentor and friend. A real professional, he was highly respected by his peers and politicians, from the backbenchers to Downing Street - one of the finest journalists of his era in Westminster and a gentleman."

John Hipwood, who worked with him in the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Westminster, added: "Des was a good friend and the ultimate professional, putting in the hours to talk to Northern Ireland politicians, usually face-to-face."

Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff, meanwhile, called Mr McCartan "a properly meticulous journalist and immensely kind, patient man."

And Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika tweeted: "Des McCartan was a great man. True professional, principled & kind. RIP."

Daily Mirror associate editor Kevin Maguire said: "Sad at the passing of Des McCartan, a brill former political editor of the Belfast Telegraph."

The Mirror's head of politics, Jason Beattie, told how Des once asked the Telegraph office "to stop being so rowdy as he was on the phone to Bill Clinton", and speechwriter Alex Marklew called him a "lobby legend."

Former Belfast Telegraph editorial director Roy Lilley said: "I am deeply saddened to hear of Des' death. He had the respect of everyone he worked with in Belfast and London. In those days the Budget speech was made in the afternoon and Des always filed a tremendous round-up of what it meant for Northern Ireland for our final edition. His death is tragic."

Former Belfast Telegraph editor Ed Curran said: "He was a tremendous political editor for the Belfast Telegraph and thanks to his unparalleled contacts there was little which crossed ministers' desks referencing Northern Ireland which he was not aware of.

"Throughout the Troubles he was much sought after by other political correspondents and MPs for his views on what was happening in Northern Ireland."

Another former Belfast Telegraph editor, Martin Lindsay, added: "I remember Des coming into the East Antrim Times when I worked there and he was still at school.

"He brought in pigeon notes and when I left he was appointed trainee reporter. He later moved to the Belfast Telegraph and I recall working with him on many stories.

"Most vividly I recall us covering the Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast. One explosion just beside our offices went off shaking the whole building. I was dictating a story to Des, who was typing. As I stopped speaking in shock, he said, 'Do you want a full stop here or a comma?'

"Des was very highly thought of at Westminster and his appointment as chair of the lobby correspondents - a prestigious post among political journalists - was proof of the esteem he was held in by his peers."

Requiem Mass is to be held at Ealing Abbey on Friday, April 21, at 2.00pm, followed by cremation at Mortlake Crematorium at 4.45pm.

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