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Seamus Kelters: Respected reporter who helped to expose true toll of Troubles


Although Seamus Kelters, who has died suddenly, was not widely known to the general public, he was one of Belfast's most respected journalists, both as a writer and behind the scenes as an editor and producer with the BBC.

Seamus, who was 54, collapsed and died on Wednesday while on a course of chemotherapy for cancer, which was diagnosed earlier this year.

A highly popular personality, he circulated regular email bulletins to friends detailing his sometimes arduous treatment sessions.

As illustrated by the numerous tributes, he had built over the decades a reputation for journalistic steadiness, common sense and sound judgement.

He was, however, not one to always play safe, in a number of cases tenaciously pursuing investigations into some of the shadier aspects of public and political life.

A child of the Falls Road and west Belfast, he was fascinated by the troubles which erupted around him as a schoolboy. His family had to evacuate their home, on what would later become a grim peaceline, when shootings and deaths became a regular occurrence.

The irony was that the family had been particularly proud of living on an estate which was, unusually for those days, religiously mixed. He later produced a television documentary chronicling the area's unhappy descent from harmony to violence. The first of his family to attend university, he took an honours history degree at Queen's before entering journalism with the Irish News. There, he worked on investigations into administrative practices at QUB which led the university to conduct an overhaul of its procedures.

Specialising in security-related stories, one project he developed was a detailed study of fatalities in a particularly dangerous area of north Belfast. He moved on to the BBC where he worked in both news and current affairs and the political unit.

But he also had other interests, writing a play on the theme of child abuse in the Catholic church as well as a book on growing up in a war zone.

He was noted for his sense of humour and for the help he gave colleagues in talking them through difficult emotional moments brought on by work.

Kathleen Carragher, head of BBC News NI, recalled a highly-valued colleague who was "a friend and a huge part of the newsroom".

She added: "He will be sadly missed by us all and we send our deepest sympathies to Camilla and his sons."

In addition to his BBC day-job, Seamus and four other journalists and historical specialists came together to assemble accounts of all the deaths of the troubles.

After more than a decade of research and discussion, this resulted in Lost Lives, a million-word book. All involved report that there was a great deal of debate but not a single row.

Getting it into print was no easy matter, with scores of publishers he contacted turning him down before a courageous Scottish company, Mainstream, took the risk of publishing.

For a Christmas radio programme, excerpts from the book were read out by, among others, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, David Trimble, John Hume, George Mitchell and Bertie Ahern. The Belfast Telegraph, meanwhile, described Lost Lives as "a fitting and enduring memorial to a pain which should never have been".

In 2001, Seamus and his co-authors were awarded the Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for the promotion of peace and reconciliation. Bestowing the award, the chairman of the judging panel, Professor Roy Foster, described the book as "an enduring memorial to all those who died and a dramatic enterprise of historical recovery".

He added: "Monumental in every sense, it is both a deeply significant historical record and a labour of love - dedicated journalistic objectivity put to the highest use."

Seamus Kelters is survived by his wife, Camilla Carroll, and sons Brendan and Michael.

David McKittrick

David McKittrick is one of the co-authors of Lost Lives

Belfast Telegraph

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