Hell’s Bells: survivor of 18 wars is undone by a suitcase
He was once hit by a mortar and survived, but tripping over his luggage meant Martin Bell had to have his face rebuilt
As a BBC war correspondent, Martin Bell spent his career dodging bombs and bullets. He was once caught by a mortar in Sarajevo, and still has the shrapnel in his stomach to prove it.
His most serious injury, however, has occurred a little closer to home. Bell has had his face rebuilt by surgeons after tripping over his suitcases while buying a train ticket at Gatwick Airport on the way home from a cruise.
“I have come through 18 wars almost unscathed and I trip up at a railway station. I have no one else to blame for this. I feel a complete idiot,” said Bell, 80.
The former MP said he “face-planted” into the concrete floor, fracturing his upper jawbone, both eye sockets, nose and an area at the base of his skull.
The accident happened on November 5 as Bell returned from a cruise to promote his latest book, War and the Death of News. One of the suitcases was filled with copies of the book.
He was taken to a local hospital before being transferred to a specialist maxillofacial centre at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London. There he underwent two-and-a-half hours of reconstructive surgery.
“I was not a pretty sight. I looked like Dracula’s grandfather,” Bell joked, adding that he now looks several years younger and “like I’ve had Botox”.
The operation was carried out by a team led by Helen Witherow, a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon. She told the Evening Standard that Bell had suffered a “phenomenal amount” of damage.
“I have never seen anyone sustain these type of fractures,” she said. “The surgery involved repairing Mr Bell’s fractures using titanium plates and screws, and these remain in place permanently. We are pleased to hear he is well.”
The team had to use a surgical saw to cut through Bell’s upper jaw before repositioning his jawbones to ensure his teeth met correctly. Four surgical plates and 16 screws were used in the surgery.
Bell said he was thankful for the team’s expertise. “Like most people, I know little about the specialist branches of medicine until I come to need them, usually at short notice. So it was with maxillofacial surgery and the people who practise it – we are truly lucky to have them,” he said.
During his career Bell was known for his white suit, which he wore in the field for reasons of superstition and continued to wear when he stood against Neil Hamilton as an anti-corruption candidate. He went on to serve as MP for Tatton from 1997-2001.
He has said of the suit: “It’s superstition. When I was in Croatia we had no body armour or protection. It was a ferocious civil war with a lot of lead flying through the air: mortars, bullets, everything. None of it hit me. I ascribed my survival to the suit I was wearing.”
When he was hit by a mortar in Sarajevo in 1992, “the word got around among the warlords that the guy in the white suit had been hit. And I had extra access to them after that. I’d earned my stripes.”
– © The Daily Telegraph
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