Bells on Fleet Street tell the good news 'Journalists' church' caps its 5-year vigil

August 09, 1991|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- The bells of St. Bride's in Fleet Street rang joyously through the afternoon in celebration of the release yesterday of one of Fleet Street's own -- British television newsman John McCarthy.

A visiting American chaplain at St. Bride's, the Rev. Holt Souder, led a thanksgiving service for about 1,000 people crowded into the 1,400-year-old "journalists' church," just off the street that runs through what was once the heart of London's newspaper world.

With a huge picture of Mr. McCarthy displayed on the main aisle, the priest told of the phone call received in the church that morning: "The rumor was a fact. Our friend John McCarthy was released. Then the bells rang out. This holy house of prayer became a madhouse."

They rang into the night.

Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd issued a statement of gratitude to the Iranian and Syrian governments for their help in effecting the release.

Mr. McCarthy had been on his first overseas assignment for Worldwide Television News when he was kidnapped as he tried to leave Beirut on April 17, 1986. He had been in Lebanon only five weeks.

Mr. McCarthy, along with Terry Anderson, the Associated Press correspondent kidnapped six years ago, and Terry Waite, the Anglican envoy kidnapped in 1987, are probably the best-known hostages, thanks to the efforts of people back home determined keep their names before the public and government officials.

Peggy Say, Mr. Anderson's sister, has never ceased pressing the State Department on his behalf. Mr. Waite, an envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, has had the Church of England to lobby on his behalf.

Mr. McCarthy had Jill Morrell, his girlfriend, the organizer and driving force behind the Friends of John McCarthy, a public lobbying group whose purpose was to make sure the government of the day did not flag in its efforts to secure his release.

"We just really tried to get everybody who had the power to get John released to use that power," Ms. Morrell, almost unable to contain her happiness, said yesterday on the British Broadcasting Corp.

So prominent did Mr. McCarthy become that news of his release was broadcast over the subway loudspeaker system, and riders cheered.

By early yesterday evening, only a few people remained in St. Bride's. Two sat before the table below Mr. McCarthy's grinning picture. The tables, the candles, the picture had remained there through the 1,939 days of his ordeal. All the candles were alight yesterday, illuminating dozens of spontaneous handwritten notes to the freed young man.

One in particular seemed to catch the spirit of the day. "Dear John," it read. "At last you are free to enjoy the rest of your life."

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