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Sky News apologizes after reporter rifles through MH17 victim's luggage

By Sophie Brown, CNN
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
A reporter picks up the belongings of MH17 victims during a live Sky News broadcast at the crash site in eastern Ukraine.
A reporter picks up the belongings of MH17 victims during a live Sky News broadcast at the crash site in eastern Ukraine.
  • NEW: "If there was someone to apologise to in person, I would," Colin Brazier writes in UK paper
  • Sky News apologizes after reporter seen picking through suitcase at MH17 crash site
  • Journalist realizes his mistake on air, before issuing formal apology along with network
  • Criticisms of handling of site, which is in rebel-held territory, abound

(CNN) -- Some of the most heartbreaking images to emerge from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash scene have been those of passengers' belongings.

A guide book, a stuffed toy monkey, a passport -- items that remind us that those traveling on the Boeing 777 were, in many ways, just like us.

Which is why many Sky News viewers watching the network's live broadcast Sunday were shocked to see a reporter begin picking through the contents of an open suitcase lying among debris in the eastern Ukrainian field where the passenger plane went down.

Immediately realizing his error while on air, correspondent Colin Brazier said, "We shouldn't really be doing this, I suppose."

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But the damage had already been done. A flurry of messages posted to social media decried the segment as "sickening" and "disrespectful."

Both Brazier and Sky News have apologized "profusely" for any offense caused, in a statement released by the network.

In a piece published Tuesday in Britain's Guardian newspaper, Brazier again apologized and sought to explain what had led to what he called a "serious error" of judgment and a gaffe.

"Good journalism takes many things and the empathy I hope they have wrought in me is one of them. But so is understanding the boundaries of decency and taste. And from time to time, we screw up," he wrote.

"At the weekend I got things wrong. If there was someone to apologise to in person, I would."

Brazier said that seeing a pink water bottle just like one owned by his 6-year-old daughter in the midst of the victims' belongings had pushed him over the edge emotionally.

What viewers of the broadcast didn't see, he said, "is that I had lost it. It is a cardinal sin of broadcasting, in my book anyway, to start blubbing on-air. I fought for some self-control, not thinking all that clearly as I did so. Too late, I realised that I was crossing a line."

Meanwhile, anger over the handling of the crash site in the rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine is growing amid allegations of looting, tampering with evidence and investigators being stopped from examining the wreckage.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described reports of "drunken separatists piling the remains of people into trucks in an unceremonious fashion."

The rebels' local leader, Alexander Borodai, has rejected accusations that his forces removed the bodies and denied responsibility for reported use of stolen bank cards taken from the crash victims.

Borodai said he could not rule out the possibility that "some local residents could have searched the bodies."

READ: MH17: 8 unanswered questions

READ: How rebels in Ukraine built up an arsenal capable of reaching the skies

READ: Athlete, soccer fans, vacationing family among Malaysia Airlines crash victims

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