Thursday 23 November 2017


Vinnie Doyle would have appreciated the dogged journalistic skills of the Fleet Street reporter Murray Sayle, who has died at the age of 84.

Described as a "big, barrel-chested, hatchet-faced man with a broken nose and a sardonic smile'', Sayle was renowned for his scoops.

In 1967 he tracked down the revolutionary Che Guevara in Bolivia. In the same year he gained the first, and only, interview with the spy Kim Philby after his defection from Britain to Moscow.

In Ireland he will be remembered for a story that his newspaper, The Sunday Times, refused to publish.

His investigation into the killing of 13 unarmed civilians by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday led him to the conclusion, which has since been vindicated by the Saville Inquiry, that the soldiers had not been fired on by those they shot. When his paper refused to publish the report Sayle quit in disgust.

The son of a railway executive, born in New South Wales in 1926, he had studied psychology at the University of Sydney.

In 1952 he travelled to London by ship in a doomed attempt to save his relationship with his Australian girlfriend the singer Shirley Abicair, who had moved there. He was hired by The People, at the time an enormously popular scandal sheet. Sayle is said to have invented the notorious catchphrase beloved of tabloid reporters who find themselves in brothels or other places of ill repute, "I made my excuses and left".

By the mid-60s he had moved to The Sunday Times, where his tireless digging for facts and vigorous, flinty style soon got him noticed. He was appointed chief foreign correspondent, with a license to roam the world's hot spots, including Vietnam.

With a taste for adventure, he climbed Mount Everest, sailed single-handed across the Atlantic, and used a light aeroplane to track the round-the-world yachtsman Francis Chichester as he sailed around Cape Horn. Then, on the same expedition, he searched for Che Guevara in Bolivia, becoming the first journalist to report that the guerrilla leader had left Cuba for South America.

After one of his sailing trips, he put in a famous expenses claim -- "money for old rope''.

He found the spy, Kim Philby, by hanging around outside Moscow's foreign post office, the only place in the Russian capital where it was possible to buy copies of London Times. Philby apparently liked to buy the paper in order to check cricket scores

After his unfortunate departure from The Sunday Times, he continued his career in Asia.

His crowning achievement, was a report in The New Yorker entitled "Did the Bomb End the War?"

In the lengthy investigation Sayle dismissed the popularly-held view that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the Japanese to surrender in World War Two.

Sayle moved back to Australia with his family in 2004 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His honorary doctorate described him as "a witness to history in the classic tradition of journalism and foreign correspondence".

Murray Sayle, journalist: born Sydney, Australia 1 January 1926; died Sydney 18 September 2010.

-- Kim Bielenberg

Irish Independent

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