13 died to free trapped Devon father in Syria
Wounded photographer Paul Conroy has escaped from besieged Syria in a rescue mission which resulted in the deaths of 13 rebels.
The 47-year-old from Totnes, Devon, is understood to have been smuggled out of Homs by army defectors who oppose the government forces wreaking bloodshed on the Arab country.
Yesterday, his wife Kate said she had been able to have "several good, long talks" with her husband, who was in "good spirits". But she said the photographer and film maker, who risked his own life to tell harrowing stories, now carried the "burden" of knowing that others died to save him.
"It's great to be communicating, but he's obviously very concerned for all the people who lost their lives in helping them out," said Mrs Conroy, speaking to the Western Morning News from the family home yesterday.
The rescue mission came a week after Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed when the media centre they were working in came under fire last Wednesday.
After several failed attempts to evacuate Mr Conroy, opposition group Local Co- ordination Committees (LCC) and activist group Avaaz said he was finally smuggled out of Homs in an operation involving a team of 35 Syrian army defectors.
Avaaz said three rebels were killed in government shelling while trying to help Mr Conroy through the neighbourhood and 10 others were killed trying to bring in aid while the journalist was on his way out.
Mrs Conroy said she was now investigating the death toll on her husband's behalf, and said: "It's a real burden on him to know that so many people died."
But she said: "I'm immensely relieved. I can't tell you how much of a relief it is. The tension just builds day by day.
"It's hard to believe he's really safe and well this time, but he seems in really good spirits. The boys are over the moon. Two of them have had a chance to speak to him."
Mr Conroy's father, Les, added: "We're all very relieved and happy that Paul's out."
But Mrs Conroy said she still had "no idea" when she might be reunited with him.
The news came after initial reports that a second evacuation attempt by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had failed. The first floundered because Mr Conroy and French journalist Edith Bouvier feared it was a trap.
But by yesterday morning, both Ms Bouvier and Mr Conroy were both over the border in Lebanon.
Yesterday, the community of Totnes breathed a collective sigh of relief after days of tense monitoring of news reports.
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, said: "I would like to thank Paul for everything he has done to record the horror in Syria and bring that to the world, and I pay tribute to his wife Kate and their family who have shown great courage during what must have been an incredibly difficult time."
Totnes mayor Judy Westacott revealed that churches in the town had said prayers for Mr Conroy's safe return.
Tom Fletcher, the British Ambassador to Lebanon, yesterday told his Twitter followers his consulate was "looking after" Mr Conroy.
He added: "Paul's experience a chilling testimony to what families in Homs experiencing. Need renewed focus on humanitarian support and end to violence."
Speaking in the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "I pay tribute to journalists who ensure that the world is aware of the crimes that are now being committed, something that we are determined to document and seek justice for."