Norfolk born newsman's body flown home

Jon WelchThe body of a Norfolk-born reporter, the first British journalist to be killed in Afghanistan, has been flown back to the UK.Jon Welch

The body of a Norfolk-born reporter, the first British journalist to be killed in Afghanistan, has been flown back to the UK.

Rupert Hamer, 39, was repatriated with the first soldier to die this year in the conflict, Private Robert Hayes, 19, on a military flight which landed at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.

Mr Hamer, 39, the Sunday Mirror's defence correspondent, and photographer Phil Coburn, 43, were caught up in an explosion on Saturday while embedded with US Marines. Mr Coburn suffered serious injuries and a marine and five others were also seriously hurt.

After arriving at Lyneham, the body of Private Robert Hayes, 19, of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, was driven through the streets of Wootton Bassett close to the base. The rifleman, of Burwell, near Newmarket, was killed on January 3 by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on foot patrol in Helmand province.

As a non-military person, married father-of-three Mr Hamer did not receive the same ceremony given to returning soldiers, the Ministry of Defence said. His family were not at the base, a spokesman added.

His body was taken, like those of the soldiers, to Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital for a post-mortem examination.

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Mr Coburn was due to be brought back on a separate medical flight for treatment at Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital. He remains in a serious but stable condition.

The pair fell victim to an IED north-west of Nawa in Helmand province.

Tributes have flooded in for Mr Hamer, who began his career in journalism at the EDP. He was described as 'dedicated and really, really valued' by his friend and colleague Chris Hughes, the Daily Mirror's security correspondent.

Max Bennett, now with ITV Anglia in Norwich, was Mr Hamer's chief reporter on the EDP at Lowestoft in the early 1990s.

He said: "I was very sad to hear this news. Rupert was a natural journalist - someone who lived and breathed the job and approached every story with enthusiasm and tenacity. It didn't surprise me that he went on to be successful on the nationals.

"Rupert was also a lovely guy with a great sense of humour who was popular with all his colleagues. His infectious laugh could light up the newsroom.'

John Kitson, former EDP Thetford chief reporter, said: 'I remember him as a small, rather shy but likeable youngster. His most valuable asset as far as I was concerned was that he was raring to go and keen to learn. He was a really nice, pleasant and amiable young man.'

Another former EDP journalist, Piers Hopkirk, was a school friend of Mr Hamer's at Gresham's, Holt. He said: 'It was pretty evident from a comparatively early age that Rupert had a strong calling to the world of journalism, long before any of us at school had an idea of what we wanted to do

'He founded a school newspaper which survived about three fairly scurrilous issues before the plug was pulled. He had an innate mistrust of authority which, with his quiet cynicism and dry sense of humour, lent themselves very well to a career in journalism.'

Philip John, headmaster of Gresham's, said: 'It's always very sad to hear of the death of a former pupil, but particularly so in this case, bearing in mind the circumstances.'

Mr Hamer, who went to Town Close School, in Norwich, before boarding at Gresham's, regularly returned to Norfolk, where members of his family, including his father Nick, still live.

He is survived by two brothers, one of whom lives in Australia, and two sisters as well as his father, who is believed to be in London with Mr Hamer's wife Helen and their children, aged six, five and 19 months.