The British military may have held back details of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd's death in Iraq, a former company executive told an inquest yesterday.

Former ITN chief executive Stewart Purvis said despite numerous requests to the Defence Secretary, the information they were given about what happened was "limited".

He added that as a result, ITN had to send two of its own journalists into Basra to find out.

He said: "I came to the conclusion that the British military knew more about what happened at the top level than they were disclosing to us."

Mr Lloyd, aged 50, died on March 22, 2003, just days after the Iraq conflict began, having crossed to the Basra area from Kuwait to work as a "unilateral" journalist operating independently from the invading coalition forces.

Giving evidence on the first day of the inquest into Mr Lloyd's death, Mr Purvis said that correspondents covering the war unilaterally, as opposed to being "embedded" with military units, were not given any information about troop movements despite requests from ITN.

Derby-born Mr Lloyd was working with French cameraman Fred Nerac and Lebanese translator Hussein Osman when they were caught in crossfire between Iraqi and US forces. Mr Nerac is still classed as missing. Mr Osman's remains have since been found and buried.

Mr Purvis told the coroner's court at Oxford's Old Assizes that "the military did not wish to take any responsibility for unilaterals, to such an extent that in a sense they wouldn't even recognise their existence". He acknowledged that information about troop movements would have been important to a correspondent travelling through a war zone in order to avoid getting caught in any crossfire, but he said: "It takes two parties to achieve that."

He said that while most reporters covering the Iraq conflict were embedded, some of the most experienced reporters, such as Mr Lloyd, would be working independently.

He said ITN bosses were extremely cautious about safety and all reporters were told to wear flak jackets and sent on safety courses.

He said: "It was not 'put your hand up if you would like to go to war', the selection process was very rigorous."

Asked by ITN legal representative Danny Friedman if ITN staff were forced to cover wars, or whether they were forced to work unilaterally once there, he responded: "Absolutely not."

Newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald told the court how he had learned of the death of his friend of 20 years. The pair had breakfast together in Kuwait just days before Mr Lloyd set off from the ITN base. He said his friend was very keen to get started on the dangerous journey.

"His interest in getting going quickly sticks out most in my mind," Sir Trevor said. But he denied that Mr Lloyd was rushing in order to be the first journalist on the scene.

He told the court that cameraman Daniel Demoustier survived the incident and managed to return to the ITN base to explain what had happened.

Sir Trevor said: "He was in a state of considerable shock. He looked very dishevelled, like he had been through a pretty horrifying experience."

The hearing continues.