Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Chandlers critical of case handling

Paul and Rachel Chandler give MPs their opinions on the Government's efforts to secure their release

A British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates have criticised the Government for giving the job of handling their case to the Foreign Office, rather than police.

With no channels for diplomatic efforts available in lawless Somalia - which has had no central government for the past 20 years - the Foreign Office (FCO) had nothing to offer but "tea and sympathy" to family members in the UK, said Paul and Rachel Chandler.

And the couple, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, said the FCO waited too long before contacting their family after they were taken hostage while sailing their yacht from the Seychelles to Tanzania during a round-the-world trip in 2009.

By the time officials contacted the Chandlers' family, news of their plight had been in the public domain for four days, missing a vital window of opportunity to prevent media coverage and improve their chances of a swift release, they said.

In evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into piracy, Mr Chandler said: "They should have advised the family not to speak to the media, because it is well-known that by far the best thing for hostages is a press blackout.

"If our family had been advised of that by the FCO early, it could have perhaps had significant beneficial consequences."

The only other advice FCO officials could have given was that there was nothing they could do to help and that they should look for assistance from private sector security experts, he told MPs.

Mr Chandler added: "The lead organisation should be the one with the best expertise, and expertise on criminal kidnapping resides with the police, rather than the FCO.

"My criticism is not really with the FCO or their individuals. It is disappointment at the fact that the wrong agency was put in charge. That was a worry for me at the time in Somalia."

On occasions when he was allowed by his captors to speak by phone with his family in the UK, he urged them to deal with the police and not the Foreign Office, Mr Chandler told MPs.

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