A war journalist who sued the BBC after claiming she was bullied into a dangerous assignment during which she was almost killed in an explosion has settled her case for £40,000.
Natalie Morton, 44, a former news producer, said the ordeal left her with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, which ended her broadcasting career, drove her to drink and left her so traumatised she could not watch the news.
Morton, who had covered conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, alleged that she was bullied by the BBC’s chief war correspondent, Lyse Doucet, into the “unnecessary” trip into war-stricken Homs, Syria, in April 2014.
There, a shell landed close to her car, inflicting 35 shrapnel injuries on a cameraman and, though Morton escaped with minor injuries, she said the incident destroyed her mental health.
While the BBC and Doucet have denied the accusations, the corporation agreed to settle the case, paying out £40,000. The settlement was revealed in a court order in which the BBC continues to deny liability for Morton’s injuries.
Her barrister, Simon Anderson, said she had been “intimidated and pressured” by Doucet, who was part of the BBC’s Emmy-award winning Syria reporting team, into risking her life by going along on the trip into Homs. He claimed Doucet had been “angry” at her previous refusal to go on another dangerous assignment in the town of Maaloula.
Morton also alleged senior BBC managers failed in their duty to keep staff as safe as possible and to care for journalists who had experienced trauma in conflict zones.
The BBC’s barrister, David Platt QC, maintained that Morton was not put under any pressure to travel with Doucet to Homs, that it was her decision to go and that all precautions were taken to prevent injury to its staff.
According to papers filed at Central London county court, Morton travelled into Syria with Doucet, camera operator Phil Goodwin, and documentary-maker Robin Barnwell. Her job was to provide news coverage of the conflict as Doucet’s producer, while Doucet and Barnwell also filmed the Bafta-nominated current affairs documentary Children of Syria.
While filming was taking place for the documentary at a centre for internally displaced people in Homs, a stray mortar landed near the vehicle where Morton was waiting outside. Goodwin sustained 35 wounds and Morton’s mental health was seriously impacted.
“She has not watched or listened to the news since May 2015,” said her barrister in court filings ahead of the trial of her damages claim.
Morton claimed there was no need for her to have been on the trip to Homs as she was not involved in the documentary and that she was “persuaded/required” to go, having previously refused another hazardous assignment with Doucet.
Platt said Morton did not need to if “she viewed it journalistically unnecessary”. He said a risk assessment of the trip had been properly completed and Morton had been “expressly advised” by her driver not to stay in the vehicle. As an experienced war journalist, he said, she knew what she was signing up for.
Morton’s claim was due to go before a judge last week but was settled after the BBC agreed the payout and to cover her legal bills, likely to run into the tens of thousands.