THE family of an award-winning Wirral photojournalist killed covering the Libyan civil war described him as a “wonderful humanitarian”.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker and war photographer Tim Hetherington was capturing images of fighting between Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and Libyan rebels in Misrata when he was caught in a mortar attack on April 20, 2011.
His American colleague Chris Hondros, 41, was also killed in the attack, while a number of other journalists including British photographer Guy Martin were injured by flying shrapnel.
Speaking after an inquest into his death at Westminster coroner’s court, his mum Judith cried as she said: “He was an image-maker and storyteller – that is how he liked to be described.
“He was a wonderful humanitarian.”
The court heard that Mr Hetherington, who was born in Birkenhead and grew up in Southport, had arrived in Misrata on April 17 with a small group of photographers.
On April 20, the photojournalists came under heavy fire while seeking images along Tripoli Street in the company of rebel fighters.
In a written statement, Mr Martin said: “The fighting and level of violence we witnessed that morning was catastrophic, with hand-to-hand fighting, grenades being thrown, buildings being set on fire with loyalist troops still inside and incoming mortar fire coming from miles away.”
Mr Martin, who is based in Istanbul, Turkey, said that after the battle seemed to have finished Mr Hetherington and the rest of the group “considered we had pushed our luck that day”.
But Mr Hetherington argued that they should stay with the rebel fighters and it was his view which prevailed, the inquest heard.
Returning to Tripoli Street to take pictures of the damage which was done, the group found themselves caught up in a second battle.
Describing the fatal attack, Mr Martin said: “For a brief millisecond I saw Chris [Hondros] stumble in front me – I looked up and was surrounded by thick grey dust.
“The ground seemed to be on fire as smoke rose up from the pavement.
“I could see my legs were still attached to my body but I could hear little and began to lose consciousness.”
Mr Martin said he only found out about the deaths as he was trying to flee the country a week later.
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, deputy Westminster coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe said: “He was not a soldier, he was an innocent photographer.”
She determined the cause of death was a “massive haemorrhage” caused by shrapnel from mortar fire which injured his legs.
Mr Hetherington, who was 40 when he died and based in Kensington, London, was born in Birkenhead.
He attended St Patrick’s RC primary school in Southport before moving to attend Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. He went on to study literature at Oxford university.
Best known for his work in Afghanistan, he won the prestigious World Press Photo of the Year Award in 2007.