By VINCENT GRAFF and ARIFA AKBAR in London
If his report had been four words longer, James Forlong would still be in a job - and most likely would be alive.
The former television journalist who faked a report during the Iraq war was yesterday found dead by his wife at their home in Sussex. She said that he was "shattered" at losing his high-profile job at Sky News.
Nick Pollard, head of Sky News, who wrote Forlong a reference after his resignation in July, described his death as a "personal tragedy".
Forlong leaves a young family grieving, and broadcasting executives - many of them already questioning their ethics in the wake of British scientist Dr David Kelly's suicide - asking: did we do the right thing?
The television report that cost Forlong his career at Sky News was aired on March 29. Forlong was on board HMS Splendid, a British submarine sent out to fight in the Gulf War, then into its ninth day.
His words, delivered in sombre, dramatic tone, declared: "Beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf, the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Splendid and the final moments before a cruise missile is launched." With that, a member of the crew was shown shouting "missile seen to launch" and a Tomahawk blasted out of the water and up into the air.
His despatch from the Gulf did not really say much beyond the fact that a British crew was taking part in a high-tech war a long way from home.
But Sky News liked it enough to broadcast it throughout the day - and other news organisations also ran it, after it was made available to them under the "pool" system used when British troops fight overseas.
But there were two fundamental problems with Forlong's report. The submarine was not beneath the waters of the Gulf, it was in dock; and no weapon had been fired. The crew had staged the "launch drill" for the sole benefit of the Sky News man. Footage of the missile leaving the submarine was library stock, provided by the Ministry of Defence.
A Sky source said yesterday: "What none of us understands is why he did not insert four words - 'this is an exercise' - and there would have been no problem."
Forlong's cheating - unlikely to be the worst example ever to have been inflicted on viewers - would have gone unnoticed, had the rival BBC not also been on the submarine, working on a documentary series, Fighting The War, and stumbled across his methods by mistake. Two months later, as the series was about to air, the corporation, at the time mired in an ethical controversy of its own in the aftermath of Andrew Gilligan's Today programme report, gave its findings to a newspaper.
From then on, Forlong's career was over. He was ordered to the network's headquarters near Heathrow for a disciplinary hearing. Pollard cut short his holiday in Portugal to fly back to investigate. On July 16, Forlong was suspended.
Two days later he felt forced to resign, after telling the inquiry he had no idea why he faked his report.
The anguish was detectable in the voices of those of Forlong's television colleagues. " We have lost a friend," said one. "This is not a pleasant thing to have to come to terms with."
- INDEPENDENTBy Arifa Akbar