A Meathman's Diary: Heroic Simon paid the ultimate price

Last week the BBC showed a documentary 'Being Frank: The Frank Gardner Story' about the life and times of the BBC journalist. He was involved in an incident with Simon Cumbers in 2004 that became a global news story and a tragic tale of the dangers journalists often face when attempting to do their jobs.

On the 6th June of that year Frank and Simon (who grew up in Navan) were reporting from Al-Suwaidi, a notoriously dangerous district of Riyadh. Simon was the cameraman and Frank was the reporter when they were both attacked and shot by a group of al-Qaida gunmen.

Simon sadly didn't make it and he died of his wounds. He was only 36. Frank Gardner, then 43, was more fortunate in that he lived but he was left partially paralysed in the legs.

After 14 surgical operations, seven months in hospital and several months of rehabilitation, he returned to reporting for the BBC in mid-2005, using a wheelchair or a frame.

Frank was eager to do the 'Being Frank' programme in order highlight the daily struggles people who confined to a wheelchair have to go through.

The documentary brought back into focus once more the life and untimely passing of Simon Cumbers and the extraordinary courage he displayed in doing what he clearly was passionate about - and that is surely a good thing because we should always remember him and what he sacrificed in the quest for the truth.

Simon grew up in Navan and went to school in St Patrick's CS, Navan. He wanted to become a journalist and nothing, it seemed, was going to stop him fulfilling that ambition. Not only had he ambition he also had ability. He was also known for his good humour and enthusiasm.

Survived... Frank Gardner

As a youngster he had spells learning the basics of journalism in the Meath Chronicle, the Weekender and the Drogheda Independent. He also had a spell with Royal County Radio before moving to Dublin and Capital Radio. It was in such media outlets he served his apprenticeship. He moved on to ITN in London and became very familiar with what was going on in the Middle East.

He re-trained as a TV cameraman and became involved in filming for broadcasters. Simon, along with Frank Gardner, went to Saudi Arabia following the terror attacks on the city of Khobar. They were preparing to film outside the house of a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader when shots rang out and both Simon and Frank were struck down.

Attacks on journalists are nothing new. Veronica Guerin paid with her life in 1996 while in 2017 Maltese journalist, blogger and activist Daphne Anne Caruana Galizia was blown up in her own car.

They were brave as lions, true heroes, people who sought the truth regardless - just like Simon Cumbers.

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