Congo cover up
In Petrol in My Blood, Eric Jackson relates the truth about an event that took place in the Congo during the Corsair v. Windsor Castle race in 1967.
British television wanted to create a TV program about the race between the car and the ship. Ford Motor Company naturally co-operated. A team were sent tv Cape Town to cover the start of the race. Edgy Fabris from Ford flew to Nairobi and rented a small plane. In his party was David Benson (motoring correspondent for the Daily Express), Jim Simpson (Castrol), Raymond Joss and Al Fitch (both from the television company), Rocky Rochfort (the local pilot) plus a cameraman and a soundman.
Eric describes Edgy as a larger-than-life character; he was certainly a man to do things in style. But his party had an extremely frightening experience when they flew to the Congo, hoping to catch up with and film the car. This they did – Eric describes the comical scene that took place in remote terrain, about a hundred miles from Lisala. Film was hastily shot and the car continued on its way.
What happened next was not reported in any contemporary Ford accounts of the trip. (However,it was mentioned in a report in Motoring News.) Some time after the car had left, a large number of Congolese troops arrived on the scene and arrested Edgy and his party. What happened to them during the next five days was horrifying. After the trip, back in London, Edgy revealed the full extent of the event to Eric and Ken. He also showed them a couple of photographs taken of the men on their return to London. The photographs – and the condition of Edgy himself – showed that he was not exaggerating the treatment they had received at the hands of their Congolese captors.
As far as I’m aware, only one newspaper, the Sunday People, reported this event. I have the cutting and, although it describes the arrest, and the incarceration of the men, it is a very low-key account. In fact, it goes as far as to say that the group had a ‘no hard feelings’ drink with their captors! Indeed, there is even a photograph accompanying the article showing the prisoners and ‘captor’.
Let me tell you about the photograph. It could have been taken anywhere. It shows what looks to me like a stage set designer’s idea of what a bar in the Congo might look like. It shows a bunch of people sitting at a table with a couple of potted palms behind them. The people in the photograph are:
Raymond Joss – his eyes are sunken and he looks extremely wary to say the least.
A man described in the caption as ‘a security guard’ – co-incidentally, just as the picture was taken, he has a glass to his mouth which obscures his face and would be impossible for anyone to identify.
Jim Simpson – who just looks scared.
Edgy Fabris – Edgy was normally a genial character. The photograph shows him raising his glass to the camera but he doesnt seem able to raise a smile.
David Benson – David is the only one of the men with anything like a smile on his face and you won’t believe what else. Sitting on his knee is a pretty young woman, captioned as ‘Gloria Stewart (the People‘s reporter-on-the-spot). The People was not one of England’s more prestigious newspapers and had only one edition a week. As far as I know, they were not covering the Corsair v. Windsor Castle race to any great extent. They were a Sunday tabloid and, as I recall, more interested in the doings of minor celebrities that serious news issues. It certainly seems strange that they would send a reporter to the Congo. It seems even stranger that they would send a young, white, female reporter to an inhospitable area to report on a bunch of men being arrested and incarcerated in the Congo by troops led by a French mercenary lieutenant.
Indeed, I remember that TV reporter Kate Adie became well-known in 1980 when she reported from the scene of the Iranian Embassy siege in London. This was thirteen years after the events of the Congo and yet the public were fascinated that a woman was reporting from the scene of such an incident – and that was in London!
In the very unlikely event of ‘Gloria Stewart’ being sent to the Congo to cover the story, would she really be wearing a mini-skirt? Even in England, apart from in large metropolitan areas, the mini-skirt was still seen as being somewhat risqué. In May, the average temperature in the Congo is 88°. Humidity is 83%. I know exactly how that feels because I live in Florida. In 1967 a bar in the Congo wouldn’t have air conditioning and yet, with that temperature and that humidity, ‘Gloria Stewart’ is wearing a long-sleeved sweater? I can assure you that in reality, she would have been wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Her hair would have been pinned up to keep the back of her neck cool.
And I wonder why the other men in the group weren’t photographed?