I was sitting in one of the last remaining restaurants in Freetown, one of the few that hadn't been burned down and looted in the rebel advance last January. Sitting opposite was a Nigerian soldier who had been given the job of guiding me and my crew through the badlands around the city. Rebel fighters had been pushed to the outskirts of Freetown, but there were rumours of infiltrators. It was a jumpy time. At night gunfire echoed across the bay and in the morning bodies washed up along the beaches. It was an easy time to die.
At the height of the fighting a cameraman from AP Television News was shot dead by the rebels at a roadblock in the city. I was one day away from leaving Freetown and was treating the soldier to a lunch of roast chicken. He wasn't a man for long conversations, more the occasional wisely chosen word. Suddenly he became animated and pointed through the door. "Look, look! See him?" he shouted. A slim man was walking by, holding hands with a woman. "That one is a cameraman. He was with us during the battle," said John. A cameraman who had been present during the fighting? "Go get him, John. Ask him to come in for a cup of coffee," I said.
Within a few minutes John had returned, followed through the door by a man he introduced as Sorious. The cameraman was soft-spoken and easy- going. Yes, he had been present during the fighting. In fact, he had been trapped behind rebel lines for a while. During the fierce street battles near the presidential palace he had filmed some strong scenes of combat. He had also filmed some captured child soldiers.
My heart began to race. This was material that nobody else had been able to record. Most of the cameramen in Freetown had - for good reasons - kept clear of the really dangerous gun battles in the town centre. Either that, or they had been refused permission to pass roadblocks by the nervous government and Ecomog (West African security force) troops. Nor had they been around to record the entry of the rebels into the city suburbs.
What Sorious had recorded was potentially material of real significance. But I worried. What would his camerawork be like? He was shooting on a digital camera but I had no idea whether he was technically competent.
He told me he had been filming in order to put together a documentary for Sierra Leone TV, and that he also wanted to sell it abroad. Sorious wanted to show the world what was happening to his country.
He took me and my BBC colleague Nigel Bateson - a veteran of many wars - to a house in the suburbs and produced his tapes. Over the next hour we watched - silent and deeply shocked - as the scenes of horror he had recorded were played on his edit machine. This was war footage of a kind I had not seen in a long time. Combat death, public execution, brutalising of child prisoners, refugees cowering under the hail of gunfire. And all of it had been recorded with remarkable steadiness and composure. We bought the right to show some of the film on BBC News.
We were due to leave later that day and so our conversation and interview with Sorious was rushed. But when his material was broadcast as part of a lead item on the Nine O'Clock News the newsroom fell silent. As the editor, Jonathan Baker, remarked, it had been a long time since any piece of footage had had such an effect.
The BBC switchboard was also jammed with calls. Some of them were angry. A number of callers believed the BBC should not have broadcast such graphic images of warfare. As the father of a small child I have sympathy with such views. But Sorious's footage …