In his early thirties, Ric Beeston was appointed Foreign News editor of the Times of London. It was a pretty safe bet since he’d already been around the hot spots behind the Iron Curtain and in the Middle East, proving himself a brave man with a judicious head.
Full disclosure, he was a friend. I also knew and had worked with his father Dick Beeston, a wide-ranging correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. In Moscow one evening he had a seat at the Bolshoi. In the audience was Kim Philby, whom he had known in Beirut before Philby defected. Living in Moscow in his role as a major-general in the KGB Philby was then more or less invisible, giving no interview. Caught on this occasion, he greeted the encounter with the words, “Dick Beeston, as I live and breath,” which made a great scoop in the Telegraph.
A chip off the old block, then, Ric in 1988 was pretty well the first to reach Halabja, the town in Iraq where Saddam Hussein had gassed some 5,000 Kurds and wrecked the health of thousands more. His reports of this atrocity made their impact because he let the facts speak for themselves, unlike lesser writers bent on parading their consciences.
American intervention in Iraq put paid to Saddam Hussein, and for Ric that was always quite sufficient justification of it. I didn’t discuss with him Bashar Assad’s gassing of his subjects but the editorial line of the Times makes it clear that he should share the fate of Saddam Hussein.
It seems quite probable that Ric’s investigations at Halabja caused the cancer that has ended his life at the age of fifty. In a published tribute, Hoshya Zebari, foreign minister of Iraq, and a Kurd, speaks of Ric’s integrity and balanced reporting “as we emerged from tyranny and began our frequently painful transition towards freedom.” It’s unique in my experience for a politician in one country to praise in such affectionate terms a journalist in another – unique but right