Dutch journalist Michel Spekkers (pictured) has just returned to the Netherlands, after a week of working in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Upon his return into Schiphol airport, after having been contacted initially by, as I understand, the MH17 investigation team, after having tweeted about having removed items from the crash site, he was questioned by Dutch police, and all the MH17 items, plus equipment pertaining to his work – camera equipment, cards, even phone, was seized – against his will, naturally.
As I would with any journalist wanting to come to report the truth from Donbass, I helped Michel, and colleague, Stefan Beck, with advice on accreditation etc, and when they arrived here, we spent the first few days together – in Donetsk, and Lugansk, even seeing in the new year with Michel.
However, I didn’t go with them to the MH17 site, and I’m, to say the least, surprised, at Michel’s actions. It wasn’t something I was aware of until seeing his subsequent posts on Twitter, and reading the articles about this, it having caused a considerable scandal in the Netherlands. Had I been there, I would have been against this, in the strongest terms. I’ve spent some 75 hours on the MH17 site, and never once removed anything. One part, given to me by a homeowner (it had fallen on his home), I did everything to try to submit to the MH17 investigation, they didn’t want it.
I understand that Michel strongly felt, as many of us who have worked on MH17 do, that it is both inexplicable, and unacceptable, for parts, including personal items, to be on the site 2 1/2 years after the tragedy. I understand he wanted to contact the relatives, return such items as he felt were of value, submit what else could be, to DNA investigation.
However, whatever the intentions, I can’t support Michel’s actions here. I can, however, say that I worked with Michel, all around Europe, on my reportage trip in June of 2016 – he was a reliable colleague, a nice guy, we got through a few tough spots together, and I was happy to see him wish to come to report the truth from Donbass.
I believe Michel’s actions were those of a journalist in Donbass for the first time, at the MH17 site for the first time, overawed, wanting to do it all. And to add, Michel is a Dutchman, and this, the worst aviation catastrophe in his nation’s history.
I would also add that fellow Dutch journalist Jeroen Akkermans took multiple items from the crash site in 2014, and was applauded for doing so in his own country. I have written frequently in opposition to this, and my sentiments are the same in the situation of Michel Spekkers, despite our good working relatonship, friendship.
I can’t comment on the actions of the Dutch police, in terms of confiscating Michel’s items, against his will. However, Michel put himself in a position where he faced the police in a compromised position, due to his actions.
And it puts me in the position of, of course, defending a colleague with whom I’ve been through a fair bit with, had some beers with, done some important work with, but being unable to defend his actions in this instance.
I believe that, with an apology from Michel, and acknowledgement this was an error of judgement, this matter can be resolved without any considerable harm being done. There is no question in any way of his having ‘compromised’ the investigation etc, and I hope this will be a lesson Michel will learn from, and move forward.
Thoughts, as ever, with the victims of MH17, and their families, and loved ones.