Body of Norfolk-born journalist flown home

Tara GreavesThe body of Norfolk-born journalist Rupert Hamer, the first British journalist to be killed in Afghanistan, was brought back to the UK today.Tara Greaves

The body of Norfolk-born journalist Rupert Hamer, the first British journalist to be killed in Afghanistan, was brought back to the UK today.

He was repatriated on a flight with the first soldier to die this year in the conflict, Private Robert Hayes, 19.

Their military flight landed at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.

Mr Hamer, 39, and photographer Phil Coburn, 43, were caught up in an explosion on Saturday while embedded with US Marines. Mr Coburn suffered serious injuries.


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As a non-military person, Mr Hamer did not receive the same ceremony at Lyneham given to returning soldiers, the Ministry of Defence said.

His family were not at the base today, a spokesman added.

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The father of three's body was taken, like those of the soldiers, to Oxford's John Ratcliffe Hospital for a post-mortem examination.

Mr Coburn was due to be brought back today on a separate medical flight for treatment at Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital.

He remains in a serious but stable condition.

The pair fell victim to an improved explosive device (IED).

This afternoon the body of Private Robert Hayes, 19, of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, was driven through the streets of Wootton Bassett close to the base.

Hundreds lined the high street in icy weather to pay tribute to the keen sportsman, from Burwell, Cambridgeshire.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has led the tributes to Mr Hamer.

Described as a 'fine, fearless and skilled writer', Mr Hamer, who began his career at the Eastern Daily Press in the late 1980s, was working as the Sunday Mirror's defence correspondent when he died following a blast north-west of Nawa.

Mr Hamer, who went to Town Close School, in Norwich, before boarding at Gresham's School, regularly returned to Norfolk, where members of his family, including his father Nick, whom he was very close to, still live.

Mr Brown said: 'I was deeply saddened by this tragic news and my heartfelt thoughts and sympathies are with the families, friends and colleagues of Rupert and Philip.

'Their courage, skill and dedication to reporting from the frontline was incredibly important and ensured that the world could see and read about our heroic troops.

'Their professionalism and commitment to our forces will not be forgotten.'

Paul Durrant, the EDP's former assistant editor, said: 'I remember Rupert as a fresh-faced, sometimes shy teenager who started as a newsdesk assistant at the EDP, running errands and getting coffee, but he always impressed us with a quiet, steely determination to pursue the career he loved. He learnt his trade in Norfolk and he never forgot those values when he moved on to Fleet Street. I'm proud to have played a part in his formative years.'

Former EDP reporter Simon Stevens, who worked with Mr Hamer at the paper's Thetford office, said: 'He was a very good writer and very well read. He was an extremely likeable person with an infectious sense of humour.'

Mr Hamer, who had been in Afghanistan since New Year's Eve, had been the Sunday Mirror's defence correspondent since 2004 and had covered the armed forces across the Middle East and central Asia, the Oman, Bahrain, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nicknamed 'Corporal Hamer', his personality and writing skills helped him bring back stories from some of the most dangerous parts of the world.

One of Mr Hamer's last assignments was organising a special Christmas edition of the paper with messages from loved ones, which was sent to troops in Afghanistan three weeks ago.

Mr Hamer started at the EDP from school in 1988 and worked as a newsdesk assistant before completing the in house training scheme.

He put his career on hold while he attended Leeds University before returning to journalism at the Bournemouth Evening Echo, where he met his wife Helen, a fellow reporter.

After moving to London in 1997, Mr Hamer shifted for the INS news agency before landing a full-time post at the Sunday Mirror.

Tina Weaver, Sunday Mirror editor, said: '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 who was hugely popular with his colleagues.'

Mr Hamer is survived by two brothers, one of whom lives in Australia and two sisters as well as his father, who is believed to be in London with Mrs Hamer and the children, who are aged six, five and 19 months.

Defence secretary Bob Ainsworth said: 'Both Rupert Hamer and Phil Coburn accompanied me on my most recent trip to Afghanistan.

'I got to know them well and I was impressed by their hard work and professionalism.

'My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families, friends and colleagues of both men at this extremely distressing time.'

Conservative Party leader David Cameron said last night: "British journalists regularly risk their own safety to report on the war in Afghanistan.

"Their job is a crucial one and their bravery is to be admired.

"My condolences go to Rupert's family - especially his wife Helen and their three young children.

"I'd also like to wish Philip Coburn who was badly injured alongside Rupert a speedy recovery.

If you would like to pay tribute to Mr Hamer, email newsdesk@archant.co.uk.

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