60 Minutes crew freed in Lebanon: Tara Brown says it's 'great to be going home'

Tara Brown and Sally Faulkner leaving the Beirut jail. Photo: Nine Network
Tara Brown and Sally Faulkner leaving the Beirut jail. Photo: Nine Network
The personal anguish of Benjamin Williamson (bottom left) and David Bailment (top right) were crucial in securing 60 Minutes crew's freedom, Ali Elamine says. Photo: Facebook

The personal anguish of Benjamin Williamson (bottom left) and David Bailment (top right) were crucial in securing 60 Minutes crew's freedom, Ali Elamine says. Photo: Facebook

Tara Brown, left, and Sally Faulkner leave a women's prison in Beirut. Photo: Bilal Hussein

Tara Brown, left, and Sally Faulkner leave a women's prison in Beirut. Photo: Bilal Hussein

The 60 Minutes crew following their release from a Lebanon jail. Pictured: Stephen Rice, Ben Williamson and David Ballment. Photo: Nine Network

The 60 Minutes crew following their release from a Lebanon jail. Pictured: Stephen Rice, Ben Williamson and David Ballment. Photo: Nine Network

Ali Elamine outside court. Photo: Nine Network

Ali Elamine outside court. Photo: Nine Network

Freed 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown says it is "great to be going home" after she and her Channel Nine crew were released from custody in Lebanon overnight and, hours later, boarded a flight back to Australia.

Some of the crew members were in tears as they, along with freed Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner, were whisked away in a van from the Beirut jails where they had been imprisoned for two weeks on kidnapping charges.

Ms Faulkner's estranged husband, Ali Elamine, had dropped personal charges against Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes crew overnight, a dramatic turnaround in the crew's fortunes amid a reported deal, in which Ms Faulkner has reportedly relinquished custody of her children.

The 60 Minutes crew - comprising Brown, cameraman Ben Williamson, sound recordist David Ballment and producer Stephen Rice - and Ms Faulkner were interviewed by Channel Nine reporter Tom Steinfort in the van as they travelled from the Beirut prisons to the airport, where the 60 Minutes crew flew out about 3.30am AEDT.

The crew members had only just spoken to their loved ones back in Australia, after two weeks without communication.

Brown, who was clutching her passport in the back of the van, said the first thing she did after being freed was to call her husband, John McAvoy, a veteran television producer.

"I had a chance to say hi to John. I was ordered to call home straight away," Brown said.

"Not the kids yet. I can't wait to speak to them obviously, but they have no idea about any of this. It's great to talk to home. It's great to be going home."

It is understood McAvoy had not told the couple's two young children, aged seven and five, about their mother's predicament in Lebanon.

Ms Faulkner said she was "just so glad to be out of there".

"I mean, they treated us well. We can't complain about that. But it's just the uncertainty that sort of kept me awake at night, not knowing if it was going to be a life-long sentence or what. Yeah, it was no joke," she said.

Ballment said "we were all hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst", while Rice appeared emotional as he reflected on his release.

"Half an hour ago we were sitting in a very, very small cell. This has just come completely out of the blue," he said.

It was the personal anguish of Ballment and Williamson at not being able to see their children that, in part, led to Mr Elamine dropping the personal charges over the botched child-recovery operation two weeks ago.

Williamson's first thoughts after his release were about his family in Australia.

"I'll hug my wife and my kids and tell them I love them," he said, as the van travelled to the airport.

The 60 Minutes crew's flight is believed to have landed in Dubai early on Thursday AEDT, and they are expected back in Sydney late on Thursday night.

Steinfort said it was "quite amazing" to be there when the crew was released from custody.

"We were in the van with them as they headed out to the airport, and just the smiles on their faces, particularly the cameraman, Ben Williamson," Steinfort said.

"He was talking to me about the phone conversation he had just had with his wife for the first time. He hadn't spoken to her for two weeks, they've had no contact back home. He said he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. There were tears, there was joy, and for all of them, there was that gamut of emotions, the fact that after this ordeal, they were finally free.

"I spoke to some of their family members overnight who were in tears with this news that their loved ones were coming home, and they said they would be delivering hugs so strong they may well break their ribs when they get back there."

He also said the crew had been relieved to see sunshine again. "They had not seen the sun for two weeks," he said.

Steinfort said a deal had been struck between all parties in the case, and a compensation payment had been made to Mr Elamine. He did not reveal how much Mr Elamine had been paid.

While the personal charges had been dropped, Steinfort said a criminal case against the crew would potentially still go to trial in Lebanon.

"The judge says it would be dealt with in absentia. If they are found guilty, they would just be ... outlawed from Lebanon, effectively banned from returning here," Steinfort said.

Steinfort said Ms Faulkner was expected to head back to Australia in the next couple of days, following a custody hearing in Beirut in relation to her two children, Lahala, 5 and Noah, 3.

It is understood Ms Faulkner will relinquish her custody rights as part of the agreement with Mr Elamine.

This story 60 Minutes crew freed in Lebanon: Tara Brown says it's 'great to be going home' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.