14 Oct 2015

Sue Lloyd-Roberts: ‘brave and determined’ journalist dies

“A remarkable woman who got remarkable stories” – the BBC’s director general Tony Hall joins many others in paying tribute to the life and work of Sue Lloyd-Roberts, who has died of cancer.

Arrest and clandestine filming – part of a Sue Lloyd-Roberts investigation in Romania, 1989

The 64-year-old reporter was being treated for acute myeloid leukaemia.

During a decades-long career working first for ITN and then the BBC, Lloyd-Roberts covered stories from around the world, bringing back undercover footage that she had shot herself, often in difficult, if not dangerous, circumstances.


Expressing her admiration, Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum said “she would sometimes spend days or weeks undercover, which required nerves of steel.”

Lloyd-Roberts once said: “the part of my brain that recognises fear doesn’t exist”. Her friends said she was driven by rage against injustice, and much of her work focused on human rights abuses.

Her 1994 report from China on the sale of human organs harvested from executed prisoners caused her to be sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison by the furious Chinese regime.

In 2011 she got herself smuggled through a ring of government tanks into the Syrian city of Homs to report on the brutal treatment of demonstrators who were then taking to the streets nightly to challenge the Assad regime – the first western reporter to do so.

On her return she described how she had pretended to be the sick mother of a young activist when flagged down by an army patrol on the road into the city, and paid tribute to the “brave and cunning network set up by young Syrian activists who want their story told to the outside world.”

Undeterred by the difficulties placed in her way, Lloyd-Roberts reported on repression in Burma, while her 2010 report Inside the North Korean Bubble won an Emmy for Outstanding Feature Story.

Her producer Ian O’Neill told Channel 4 News “she was very brave, and she was very clever, and she was very determined, and she was very humane. And that combination was both incredible and lethal.”

In 2013 she confronted a senior cleric in Gambia who said female genital mutilation was “good for women”, making her one of the first journalists to talk about the issue.

Facing danger

In an interview with the Daily Mail in July 2015, she said that “concentrating on filming displaces you from what’s going on. There is nothing better at dispelling fear than having something constructive to do”.

But she did admit fear when faced with a diagnosis of an aggressive form of leukaemia, saying: “Now it’s different. My life is at risk and it’s not of my choosing.”

When a planned stem cell transplant had to be cancelled at a day’s notice because the donor had failed the medical, Lloyd-Roberts launched a campaign to find a new match as well as getting more people signed up to the donor register. Naturally she made a video diary about her experiences.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts blog

Hundreds more donors signed up as a result and a new donor was identified. The procedure went ahead in July 2015, but Lloyd-Roberts died of complications on Tuesday.


Her friend, BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet, said she was the bravest of journalists and kindest of colleagues: “Sue Lloyd-Roberts was a trail-blazer – taking risks, showing courage, telling the stories few others could get.”

Channel 4 News political correspondent Michael Crick, who previously worked with her at the BBC’s Newsnight programme, said she “exposed human rights abuses in so many countries, it always surprised me that the world’s tyrants didn’t gang up to stop her”.

Lindsey Hilsum said “I can’t think of another broacast reporter who combines such a passion to uncover atrocities and injustice with technical skill and determination. She is a huge loss.”

Lloyd-Roberts, who was awarded an MBE in 2002 and a CBE in 2013 for her humanitarian journalism, was married to BBC producer Nick Guthrie. Together they ran a rural hotel in Spain.