'Don"t execute our son"s killer": Navan family"s plea to Saudis

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 1st July, 2009 10:10am

The parents of Simon Cumbers, the young BBC cameraman from Navan murdered by terrorists in Saudi Arabia five years ago, are to make a plea to the Saudi authorties not to execute his killer.

Simon"s mother, Bronagh, said at her Navan home this week: 'I don"t want to see anybody dying.'

Her son, who was educated at St Patrick"s Classical School in Navan, was on a news assignment with BBC reporter Frank Gardner in a suburb of Riyadh in June 2004 when terrorists attacked them. Simon died immediately and his colleague was seriously wounded but survived.

Some of those involved in the attack on the two men - said to have links to Al-Qaeda - are dead and just one suspect, named as Adil Sa"ad Al-Dubayti Al-Mutayri, remains in custody.

The Cumbers family has not been told if and when this man might come to trial. Robert Cumbers said that a trial might give some answers to the family. 'We badly need those answers. It might bring things to a conclusion. Time dims the memory of the tragedy itself but a trial would bring a certain closure to it.'

But the Cumbers are adamant that they do not want the suspected killer of their son to be executed. 'Simon was a pacifist, someone who would not have wanted the death penalty and would have opposed it. We do not want this man to be executed if he is found guilty,' Mr Cumbers said. 'I intend going to Saudi Arabia for a trial if it comes up. If I get the opportunity, I would look to appeal to the court for a more suitable punishment. I don"t think I will succeed but I will try,' he said.

The fifth anniversary of Simon"s death revives stark memories for Simon"s wife, Louise Bevan, who worked with him in the BBC, his parents, brother Stephen, and sisters Eimear and Catraoine. The family pay regular visits to Redwood Cemetery, Gresytones, where he lies at rest, and they have happy memories of a well-loved husband, son and brother. However, many questions about his death remain unanswered in those five years.

In a society known for its opaque quality, the Saudi Arabian government has been of little help in assisting the family towards closure of this traumatic event which caused such turmoil in their lives on 6th June 2004. They have faced obfuscation, obstruction and indifference from the Saudi authorities, despite the fact that they claim Simon and his colleague were filming in the Riyadh suburb of Al-Suwadi with the express permission of the Saudi authorities, and accompanied by an official of its ministry of information.

Working for BBC News and Newnight, the men were on an assignment to gauge the feelings of British 'expats" in the region following a previous terrorist attack and had arrived at Al-Suwadi on a Sunday afternoon. They spent 20-30 minutes filming and were packing up their equipment to leave when a car stopped nearby.

Two men dressed in traditional dress approached them. Gardner, a fluent Arabic speaker, greeted them in traditional form but then saw one of them draw a handgun. He turned and started to run, at the same time shouting a warning to Simon to run.

There is confusion as to what took place in the next few moments. Frank Gardner was shot six times (he is now paraplegic). One report says that Simon ran carrying his camera and he was found shot dead 1,000 metres from the initial encounter, and another that he was shot in the car.

In an interview with the Meath Chronicle this week at their Navan home, Mr and Mrs Cumbers praised the support they have got from the BBC, the London Metropolitan Police and the Garda Siochana in the days and weeks after Simon"s death.

Robert Cumbers maintains that because the two journalists were working under a permit granted by the Saudi authorities, they had a duty of care to the men, a duty which remained unfulfilled. Five years later, the family feels that they are no nearer an answer to what happened Simon.

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