The news that Albert Dryden has been released from prison has brought back vivid memories of the day he shot dead a council officer and wounded one of my colleagues and a policeman.
It was already going to be a difficult day for the BBC Look North team. The funeral was taking place of one of the programme’s much-loved cameraman, Bob Armstrong. As a result people who had worked with him for a long time – notably reporters and fellow cameramen – were attending Bob’s funeral. It meant that “reserve” reporters – such as Tony Belmont – were required to fill in.
Like all North East news organisations we had been following the story of Dryden: this seemingly eccentric figure who had built his house without planning permission. Nobody anticipated that he would resort to such violence.
I was helping the producer of the lunchtime news programme, when about mid-morning we received a phone call about the shootings. Whilst we were shocked and worried about the welfare of Tony and his camera crew – Phil Dobson and Simon Forester – we were also aware that this was a very big story.
From memory we had already arranged for a courier to bring back the tape to edit a piece for the lunchtime news. When it arrived I remember watching the rushes with a sense of horror but also concern about what we could show – both out of concern for the victims and their families as well as the legal implications. Dryden had been arrested, but in those days broadcasters had much greater respect – or fear – of the Contempt of Court Act. There were no mobile phones and the Look North editor was at Bob’s funeral and not contactable. Probably a blessing in disguise.
As a result of the sound advice of the BBC lawyers we were able to show events leading up to the shooting, a freeze frame of Dryden raising his gun and preparing to fire, and the aftermath. That included knee-high shots of grass as Phil ran from the scene with his camera still in record mode and then, incredibly, Tony Belmont – with a bullet wound to his arm – delivering a piece to camera. The images received world-wide attention and left a lifelong memory for those involved in the story.