Danny McGrory

Daily     Drone

From The Times of February 22, 2007

Daniel McGrory, journalist, was born on April 13, 1952. He was found dead at his home on February 20, 2007, aged 54

Danny McGrory, an unflappable, deeply dedicated journalist who learnt by experience, like the best war and foreign correspondents, what level of risk to take in the pursuit of a story, was never one to boast of his achievements.

He was not a reporter who liked to project himself into the story. Returning from a trip abroad, he would often decry the ever-growing tendency of journalists, who had faced danger, to write in the first person. He could never write: “How I dived into the ditch as bullets flew over my head.”

In that sense, and in every other sense, he was the ultimate professional, a natural reporter who recognised a story for what it was, pursued its possibilities to the very end and crafted a tale which enlightened and enlivened the pages of the newspaper for which he was working. He did not expect praise but often received it.

This charming and delightful Irishman was one of a relatively small handful of brilliant reporters who were prepared to make the toughest of decisions, often at great risk to themselves, to bring alive to their readers back home the horrors of war, the tragedy of natural disasters, like the tsunami in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia in 2004, and, above all, to write the extraordinary human stories that lie behind all conflicts.

His reporting from Baghdad last year, when he immersed himself in the stories of individual Iraqis and went out into the city hiding in the back of a car to try to evade the peering looks of suspicious locals, should have won awards but he was always too modest to put himself up for honours.

“McGrory the Story” had many sides to him. When not assigned to cover the big stories abroad, he could become melancholic. He always had many friends, and there were some in particular who had faced the same dangers as he had who loved nothing more than to spend time with him, talking of shared experiences.

To the home news and foreign desks he worked for, he gave little hint of the personal traumas he had often encountered. But his close friends knew everything, and had often wondered in awe at his quiet, extraordinary courage, always displayed in such a low-key manner.

One of his favourite phrases was: “It could have been worse.” These were the words he used when he came close to a violent death in the early part of the war in Iraq in 2003. He was approaching Basra in his hired car, along with a number of other journalists in their cars, when they were ambushed by militia. The cars in front swerved off the road and drove away. McGrory did the same but the spraying bullets hit his car and missed him by inches. Under sustained fire he managed to turn the car round but it was seriously damaged. The readers of The Times never learnt of the escape of this intrepid reporter. He just continued to write about the war and put the experience to the back of his mind. Within 48 hours, his car repaired, he was back in business.

Daniel Patrick McGrory was born in Glasgow in 1952 and had a lifelong obsession with Celtic. He had been due to meet friends in London to watch his beloved football team play AC Milan in the Champions League on television on Tuesday night, having just returned from a two-week trip to Pakistan where he had been researching the background of a terrorist trial. He had become an expert reporter on terrorism for The Times; this dated back to several trips he made to Algeria in the late 1990s before al-Qaeda became a big story. He recently published a book, The Suicide Factory, co-written with Sean O’Neill, about the jailed cleric Abu Hamza.

He came from a large and devoted family. The McGrory clan is pretty special, and he loved to return to his Irish roots. The extended family live near Donegal, although his mother, who is Welsh, lives in Surrey.

He was educated at Gunnersbury Grammar School in London and went to Keele University where he got a 2.1 honours degree in American studies and politics. As a Thomson graduate trainee, he worked as a reporter for the Western Mail in Cardiff, and subsequently turned freelance.

After breaking a story about Blair Peach — a New Zealand-born teacher who died from head injuries suffered during an anti-Nazi protest in London in 1979 —  McGrory was offered a job on the Daily Express, where he thrived as a general reporter and then as a “fireman” who was sent out on foreign assignments.

For his fellow reporters covering the unpredictable and dangerous conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s, he was someone who could be relied on to make sensible judgments. He had an instinct for the best story.

He joined The Times in April 1997 and rapidly made a name for himself, covering, with his impeccable reporting talents, most of the important stories, including the Iraq war, the tsunami, the earthquake in Turkey and the terrorist bombs in London.

He was in no sense, however, an old-style, heavy-drinking, hard-living Fleet Street man. He was a professional who did not need a heavy dose of alcohol to keep him going. He loved a drink with his friends but only after the job was done, the story written and the foreign desk back in London satisfied. He was a wonderful companion at the end of a hard day of war reporting.

McGrory is survived by Liz, his wife, and by two children, James and Anna.