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Hostage deaths: Canon White criticises British Government

by Gerald Butt, Middle East correspondant

THE Chaplain of St George’s, Bagh­dad, Canon Andrew White, has cri­ticised the British Government for its decision to discourage media cover­age of the five British men kidnapped in Iraq in 2007. But he says he will continue working for the release of the three men still in captivity.

Canon White, speaking on Tues­day evening after returning to London from Baghdad, said that the British government’s policy of re­stric­ting coverage had impeded his efforts to secure the safe release of the five hostages.

On Friday night, the bodies of Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell, two of the four security guards kidnapped in May 2007, were delivered to the British Embassy in Baghdad.

The men had been employed by a security firm to protect Peter Moore, a British IT consultant working in Baghdad. All five were abducted from the Iraqi Ministry of Finance by a gang of armed men.

Canon Andrew White, who is also president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRM), had been closely involved in developing contacts with the kid­nappers to secure the release of the five men.

“I can’t help thinking that our approach would have had more suc­cess if there had not been this media blackout,” he said. “The Govern-ment never tells me what it’s doing, but I’m expected to hand over all my information.”

Canon White said that he had been “dealing with this every day for the past two years, and it’s just heart­breaking. I feel awful.”

News of the deaths of Mr Swindle­hurst and Mr Creswell has called the Government’s cautious approach into question. Despite the policy of discouraging media coverage, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, was allowed to make a video appeal to the kidnappers in May 2008, at Canon White’s instiga­tion. In the course of the appeal, Lord Carey described the kidnappers as “honourable” and “men of faith”.

Canon White said that he felt let down both by British Government policy and by the kidnappers themselves, with whom he thought he had established a good working relationship. “I feel angry,” he said, “that so many people in Baghdad have lied to us after we have been engaged there for so long.”

News of the deaths of the two men came as hopes for the safe release of all five hostages had risen. After the release of the Iraqi militant Laith al-Khazali from a United States de­tention centre in Baghdad on 6 June, negotiators believed that a gesture of goodwill from the Shi’ite militia holding the British men would soon follow.

Canon White, who has been in­volved in negotiations in 149 kidnap cases in Iraq, and in securing the release of 46 hostages, said that the killing of the two men was parti­cularly painful for him because the men had previously worked as part of his own security team. “I was not just dealing with people in the abstract. One of the Jasons had been an army medic and cared for me.”

After learning of their deaths, Canon White said he “cried and cried. I had to take the main service of the day last Sunday, but I just felt I didn’t have the strength to go on.”

Canon White insisted, however, that he would continue in his mis­sion. “We know we are working with the right people, but we know we cannot trust them. In order to carry on, you hope that sometimes you can trust them, but in reality you know you cannot. In the midst of all this we are told to love our enemies. It is so, so difficult.”

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