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Family of shot journalist accuse Israel

Vikram Dodd
Tuesday April 4, 2006
The Guardian

The family of a British cameraman shot dead by an Israeli soldier claimed yesterday that both the Foreign Office and the Israeli authorities had obstructed their search for justice. James Miller, 34, was killed by a single shot while making a documentary in the Gaza strip about Palestinian children.

At an inquest opening yesterday in London, TV producer Daniel Edge told how he was with Mr Miller on May 2 2003, and described his desperate attempts to save the cameraman. The four-strong TV crew were on their final day of filming. Clutching a white flag with a torch shone on to it, they had approached the Israeli soldiers, calling out: “Hello, we’re British journalists.” Shots were fired, and Mr Miller fell, fatally wounded. Mr Edge told the inquest how he had begged the soldiers for help for his friend.

The jury of five women and five men heard that Mr Miller, reporter Saira Shah, and interpreter Abdul Rahman Abdullah were fired upon as they approached the soldiers on foot to ask to leave the dangerous area where they had been filming. They had spent 16 days in the Gaza Strip on a documentary for US network HBO about Palestinian children in the Rafah refugee camp. It had been the first visit to Palestine for Mr Miller, who came from Braunton in Devon.

On the night, the crew left their equipment in a nearby Palestinian house as the trio walked, in flak jackets and helmets, towards members of the Israeli Defence Force in their armoured personnel carrier, or APC. Mr Edge, from Badby, Northamptonshire, was standing yards away, on the house veranda. Mr Miller was shining a torch on to a white flag held by Mr Abdullah when the IDF opened fire. On the second shot, Mr Miller was hit in the front of his neck; fragments of bullet were later found embedded in his blue flak jacket.

In an emotional state giving evidence at St Pancras coroner’s court, Mr Edge said: “I heard Abdul shouting, it seemed he was crying in pain – I thought he had been shot in the arms or legs. I heard Saira shouting ‘He’s injured, he’s injured, please don’t shoot’. And then I heard Abdul shouting ‘He’s injured’. It was at that point I realised James had been shot, possibly badly injured, because he was silent.”

Following the death, the Miller family were determined any local postmortem should be attended by an independent expert, such as a Home Office pathologist. In written evidence one of Mr Miller’s sisters alleged the British ambassador, Sherrard Cowper-Coles, told her it would be a waste of money to have a British pathologist – even though the family wanted to ascertain the nature of the wound, and gather other forensic evidence. According to a contemporaneous note of the phone conversation made by Anne Waddington, a barrister, he was dismissive: “I asked what was his reluctance … He said it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Mrs Waddington, whose father-in-law is the former Tory home secretary David Waddington, told the inquest another British official, Piers Cazalet, also asked the family to drop the demand : “He told me it would be obstructive and cause a delay [if I protested].” She went on: “There was extreme pressure on us, and on Sophy [Mr Miller’s widow], within hours of her husband being killed, to agree to a postmortem without any independent observer.” Mrs Miller told the jury Israel had tried to “grind down” the family with delays and broken promises “in the hope that we wouldn’t go on”.

In court Mrs Miller named the soldier she believed killed her husband as a first lieutenant who fired from the APC 100 metres away from Mr Miller.