The sister of British journalist Dom Phillips has said her brother knew the risks of travelling to perilous regions of the Brazilian Amazon but continued to report from the area because he was committed to telling the story of Indigenous people and the fight for development models that might save the rainforest.
Sian Phillips said her brother, whose body was found along with Indigenous activist Bruno Pereira this week, believed his work on a book called How to Save the Amazon was “urgent”.
“I think he underplayed the risks to some extent but we knew that there were risks,” Sian told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“This was the final trip [for his book]. This was the trip with Bruno to give the story of the Indigenous people living in the Javari valley and to give their story,” she said.
“He also believed it was urgent. And that there wasn’t time to change the model of capitalism – it had to happen within the society that Brazil has.”
Phillips had been working on his book for more than a year and his four-day voyage to the remote west of Brazil was one of his final reporting trips. He expected to finish writing the manuscript by the end of this year.
However, he and Pereira, an experienced explorer in the region who knew the local Indigenous people well, went missing on 5 June. Their bodies were found on Wednesday, buried in a dense part of the forest two hours from the nearest big town.
Police were led to the site by one of two brothers arrested for their part in the killing. One of the men confessed to the killing, police said, and a third man wanted by police, Jefferson Lima da Silva, handed himself in to authorities on Saturday.
In a separate statement issued on Saturday, police revealed both men were killed by gunshot wounds of the type used in hunting.
Phillips was shot once with the bullet splintering into the abdomen and chest, while Pereira was shot three times, twice in the abdomen and chest and once in the head.
The Javari valley area is fraught with illegal logging, mining and fishing and it is believed Pereira knew of the pair’s fishing racket.
Phillips’ brother-in-law, Paul Sherwood, said the reporter was aware of the dangers inherent in the reporting but planned ahead and took sensible precautions.
“He was a cautious man. He wasn’t reckless,” Sherwood told the Today programme. “He planned these trips and Bruno was the guy who understood this part of the world better than probably any non-Indigenous person.
“But no, he would have been aware that there would have been many people who would be happy to see the back of him because it was an inconvenient truth he was uncovering.
“We are almost certain now that they were attacked by people who were involved in illegal fishing. What we don’t know is what lies behind that.
“Were they acting alone, as the police have said recently, or was there a larger involvement of other powerful people, organised crime?
“There is a lot of drug trafficking as well as organised crime involved in the poaching of fish.
“We want the kind of justice that makes it possible for journalists and protectors of the rainforest to feel that they are safe in continuing to report from and help the Indigenous people.”