EXCLUSIVE: A documentary maker involved in a car accident in Ukraine with presenter Clive Myrie has commenced legal action against the BBC and warned that the UK broadcaster is not doing enough to protect freelancers in warzones.
Nick Sturdee suffered a life-changing brain injury and had his spleen removed after a tire exploded on his armored vehicle, causing it to turn over four times and hit a tree. He was filming the BBC documentary Ukraine’s Musical Freedom Fighters With Clive Myrie.
Sturdee, a 53-year-old Russian-speaking journalist, has instructed personal injury lawyer Helen Clifford to lodge a particulars of claim with the BBC as he seeks compensation. His injuries have prevented him from working in Ukraine since the accident, but the BBC has provided some financial support and a contract on its Ukrainecast podcast.
“It is exactly a year since colleagues and I had a bad accident in Ukraine making a BBC doc about the superb Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra,” he said. “Police blamed the poorly maintained state of our vehicle. I had multiple injuries, including to my brain. A neurosurgeon recently said my brain injury is permanent, and I’ll have lifelong pre-disposition to seizures. My family has been through a lot. But we’re still here, grateful for what we have.”
Myrie, one of the BBC’s best-known news presenters, emerged from the accident relatively unscathed.
Sturdee, who has made films for the BBC in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, said his accident raised concerns about the corporation’s insurance arrangements for freelancers working in some of the most dangerous places in the world.
The journalist was shocked to discover that he was not fully insured by the BBC following his accident. The BBC has for decades offered emergency medical cover to staff and freelancers in the field, which the broadcaster argued is tantamount to insurance and similar to policies offered by rivals.
But Sturdee said that this does not cover him for loss of earnings after his injuries have limited his capacity to work. He believes that the BBC would have to acknowledge negligence to offer compensation, which may not have been the case had he been insured under a third-party policy.
The BBC’s insurance arrangements state that freelancers are “expected to have their own personal accident insurance,” but Sturdee said that the corporation had failed to communicate this effectively.
The BBC said it makes individual freelance journalists aware of the insurance position and directs them to its policies in contracts and during training. Sturdee said this was not the case for his Ukraine trip last year.
“Insurance was never discussed in preparation for travel to a warzone or in training. In my experience, it is never even mentioned,” he said in comments to Deadline and The Times of London.
A second veteran BBC freelancer, who wished to remain anonymous, echoed Sturdee’s concerns. This journalist said the BBC had never proactively communicated its insurance arrangements.
“I was really shocked when the BBC said I wasn’t insured, they should have notified me before I went to Ukraine,” they said. “The BBC will think that it can continue to get away with this until something happens — and something has happened with Nick’s accident.”
BBC Has “Moral” Responsibility On Insurance
Clifford, Sturdee’s lawyer, said: “People would be horrified if they knew that the BBC is sending journalists into war zones without adequate insurance cover. The BBC is providing a public service by providing us with information and for freelancers to be at risk is unacceptable.”
“It’s hidden away and is not being brought to people’s attention. It’s certainly not checked. And no-one is telling them that they can’t get on a plane until they have produced an insurance certificate.”
Clothilde Redfern, a director for the Rory Peck Trust, which offers support to freelance journalists, said the BBC was within its rights not to offer cover, but she was alarmed by the poor communication.
“There’s a difference between being legally responsible and being morally responsible. And being morally responsible for people that you are deploying into high-risk areas means you are incredibly transparent, and clear about the risks that people are taking on and who’s responsible for those,” said Redfern.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “The BBC has been supporting Nick Sturdee throughout his recovery, and we continue to do so. We remain in close touch with Nick.
“It’s incorrect to say the BBC doesn’t insure freelancers. The BBC provides emergency medical cover and a personal accident scheme for freelancers, and our schemes are comparable to those of our peers.
“The accident in which Nick was involved is the subject of a legal claim so it would be inappropriate to comment further.”