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Alan Henning: Reporting on the man I knew

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Media captionThe BBC's Catrin Nye, who met Alan Henning before he travelled to Syria, hears tributes to his bravery and generosity of spirit from those who knew him best

The beheading of Salford taxi driver Alan Henning in Syria has been felt most strongly in his home town of Eccles, north-west England. The BBC's Asian Network reporter Catrin Nye met Mr Henning and travelled on the convoys to Syria with his friends and fellow aid workers. This is her personal story.

The cross in the middle of Eccles - Alan's hometown - is covered in yellow ribbons, flowers and tributes to "Salford's Hero".

In among all this there is a pie, reflecting the less than balanced diet of an Eccles taxi driver, some nappies, which confuse my cameraman until I explain that that's what Alan was trying to take to Syrian orphans, and a mobile phone with the word "Gadget" on it - Alan's nickname.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Floral tributes at the cross in the middle of Eccles

I'm standing with Reg and Paul Henning - Alan's brothers. We joke that the mobile phone needs to be a better model. Alan always had the very latest gadget. Reg says if he was here now he would have been at the front of the queue for the latest iPhone.

It's almost a week since his murder was announced and it's the first time the brothers have felt strong enough to visit his constantly expanding memorial in Eccles.

Paul has brought his family - granddaughter Evelyn Henning tapes a card to the cross and tells me "Uncle Alan is with the angels now".

There are tears from family and so often from complete strangers, but also moments we laugh about later on as members of the public approach the tributes and start pouring out anecdotes about Alan - unaware they are talking to his brothers.

Image caption Reg and Paul Henning visit the tributes in Eccles

One woman tells Reg that Alan used to pick her up in his taxi each week and told her about the Syria convoys.

"He said he just had to go," she says. "Such a nice man though. Never charged me full fare."

We head back to Reg's house. His wife Sandra makes me a cup of milky tea with far too many sugars in it - a habit picked up from travelling on these convoys to Syria.

The video that's been shown around of the world of Alan on Christmas day telling the group all the sacrifices are "worthwhile when you see what is needed get to where it needs to go" is filmed in a cafe on the Greek and Turkish border.

Image caption A pie has been left among the floral tributes

I always remember the laughs of the Turkish men serving the tea in that café as "the English ones" all poured milk into the top of the elegant Turkish teacups and then about six sugars.

At Reg's, I chat to more of the Henning family. His daughter and granddaughter are making yellow loom bands to match the ribbons covering Eccles.

We talk about having to keep Alan's kidnap quiet for nine months.

I met Alan last October and travelled on two convoys to Syria so knew quickly he was missing.

The family say they had to try and explain why their social media accounts had been closed down. We discuss how on my second convoy Alan had already been taken and so we talked about it constantly but didn't report it.

Thinking back to the weeks and months following the kidnap, this kind of ending was inconceivable.

Image caption Catrin Nye travelled on two aid convoys to Syria

We talk in hushed tones about beheading. Younger members of the family will no doubt learn the details in years to come. Right now many adult's brains cannot quite process what has happened.

There are jokes about Alan's niece being bad at geography, but pointedly she says she's suddenly had to become an expert in the geography of Syria and Iraq.

A war thousands of miles away is suddenly part of a Lancashire living room. We talk about IS, about the logic of not going public in cases like this, but we also discuss an upcoming parents' evening, who is going to go and how many teachers will they have to sit through. Life continues.

I have been covering this story for the BBC every day since the video showing Alan appeared, talking about it for nine months off-screen.

I had saved footage and pictures of the man I knew as "Gadget" as soon as I heard about the kidnap, hoping it would never have to be used.

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Image caption Yellow ribbons of support in Eccles

As a journalist there is always some distance between you and a story, but this one drew me in closer than usual.

On top of the facts of what happened to Alan, I've been answering questions as someone who met him and came to know him though his closest friends.

After the first video in which he appeared, I, like so many others, thought his case might be different, that he might be released, and I had to question if this was logic or hope?

It was Alan's close friend and convoy leader Kasim Jameel that called to deliver the news that he had been murdered. He couldn't say much else at that point.

There is little positive that can be said about Alan's death. But so much positive in his legacy.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Convoy leader Kasim Jameel broke the news of Alan Henning's death to Catrin

Left behind is a hero whose selflessness and compassion has inspired even those who didn't know him.

One dedication I saw this week I won't forget.

It said: "Everyone dies. But not everyone really lives... he did."

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