Culture Magazine

Find Jonathan Spollen. And Remember Mick Deane

By Colin Randall @salutsunderland


Two things made me think yesterday of Jonathan Spollen, with whom I worked at The National, Abu Dhabi but who has been missing in India since February 2012.

The first was that two other colleagues chose to make the unending search for Jonathan a theme of their joint leaving party. Richard Pretorius, is heading for Hong Kong, as Jonathan did before him, while Marie-Louise Olson, will start a new life in "the city that never sleeps" (I think she must mean Sunderland).

And the other was the tragic and probably criminal death of a Sky News cameraman, Mick Deane, shot - as far we can make out - by Egyptian security forces while covering the Cairo protests. No link beyond their shared trade of journalism and while mourning the loss of Mick, those of us who knew Jonathan must go on hoping fervently that he is alive and well.

In their invitation, Richard and Marie-Louise wrote: "Many of you know Jon has been missing in India for more than 18 months. His mother keeps hope alive that he will appear one day soon.

"In the meantime, when asked, she suggested one way to hono(u)r Jon would be by giving to the orphanage in Nepal his uncle started, The Humla Children's Home ( We have set up a scholarship there in his name. Donations will be gratefully accepted."

Jonathan sat immediately behind me when I was executive editor of The National (2007-2009) and he was on the foreign desk. He was a thoughtful, witty and warm man with a genuinely inquisitive approach, a delight to work with.

He was last seen in Laxman Jhula, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, between February 10 and 14 last year. A bag containing various of his possessions was later found in March at the Garur Chatti Waterfall near Rishikesh.

In October, a Huffington Post item gave as the likeliest explanations as that he was a victim of crime or had made a conscious decision to "leave his worldly possessions behind and go off the grid, perhaps visiting one of the region's many ashrams".

Sadly, on rational assessment, foul play would seem the more probable and much more disturbing theory.

But Jonathan's mother, Lynda, clings to hope and refuses to believe her son is dead. Speaking to the Irish Times article, she recalled that he had given up his job with the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong and split up with his girlfriend shortly before his disappearance.

“He talked about how he was hitting 29 and felt it was the right moment to take some time out at his own pace. We even coined a word for it, whimming, in that he could decide he was going to change his mind on a whim.”

On February 3, Jonathan called his mother to say he was setting off on a trek into a wooded area outside Rishikesh, warning of patchy mobile phone signals but promising to text when possible. He made it clear he did not want a guide: "No, I want to do it on my own. It’s a spiritual thing."

So there remains the possibility of a happy outcome. I hope the farewell party of Richard and Marie-Louise gives that hope a boost and that uplifting news may soon follow. I know Salut! attracts readers from India, because I have written here about the subcontinent; if anyone can help, please contact

As for Mick, I did not know him. But a man I did once work with on assignment, Matt Frei, now Channel 4's Washington correspondent, wrote the sort of short tribute at Twitter than can hardly be bettered: "So shocked and sad to hear that my old friend Mick Deane has been killed in Cairo. Great friend, great cameraman. He survived cancer."

A wretched way to go but a noble way to be remembered.

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