Some forgotten corner of a foreign field?

ALMOST TWO years have now elapsed since London freelance Alan Pearce was seized, choked and rifle-butted by Taliban guerrillas as he worked on contract for the BBC World Service in Afghanistan.

September 2006

At the time we reported this as a welfare case and didn't note the significance of why Alan was attacked. He was reporting for the BBC from Kabul in Afghanistan. The Pathan translation of a report said Pathans were winning a battle. Pushtun, Pushtun speakers. Alan was beaten within an inch of his life by the Taliban - because of this.

Had he been a German or French reporter - or from almost any non-English-speaking country - he would have been able to sue the BBC under his "moral right" to defend the integrity of his report from such blatant distortion. This would of course have strengthened his case for compensation for his injuries.

From that day on, because of his injuries and the resulting trauma, Pearce has not been able to work at all. But the BBC has admitted no liability, paid no compensation, and allowed an insurance claim to fall into a never-never-land state of delay.

Pearce has had to get by on welfare payments of about £44 a week and occasional hand-outs from charity. Last August, with his savings running out, and no income, he wrote to the BBC about their responsibility for his situation. He got a letter back from Kevin Sampson, editor of World Service news-gathering, saying the matter was being looked into.

Another letter, saying much the same thing, followed soon afterwards. Then silence until the Guardian devoted most of a media-section page to Pearce's case, last January.

Two weeks later, on 21 January, the BBC sent a consent form from their medical insurers for a report from Pearce's consultant in Harley Street. This took place on 6 March and the report was sent on 7 April.

On 12 May, NUJ broadcasting officer John Fray, who had been pursuing the case, got a letter from the office of the BBC's personnel controller claiming that there was delay because permission had to be sought from Pearce for the doctor to release the report.

Pearce says he had already given this permission in January when the initial examination form was signed. "Until any liability has been assessed it is not possible to settle this case or make any financial recompense to Mr Pearce..." says the letter.

The government's Benefit's Agency, however, is not dragging its feet. On 28 May Alan Pearce received an incapacity questionnaire to determine whether he is still entitled to benefits.

"I am due for reassessment in October, but meantime my benefits are on a very complicated sliding scale whereby they are gradually reduced," he said.

"I am obliged to wear a neck-brace almost constantly and I have a lurking intestinal infection due to Afghan service, which pops up when I can least cope with it.

"My GP says that my powers of recuperation are seriously hampered by general poor health. But it seems the BBC doesn't want to know."

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