The fate of the fifth British hostage seized in Baghdad nearly three years ago could be resolved within days, according to senior Iraqi government sources.
But yesterday the Foreign Office sought to play down suggestions bodyguard Alan McMenemy might be alive, urging the kidnappers to release his body and end his family's anguish.
Speculation over the wellbeing of the 34-year-old Scot surfaced as computer programmer Peter Moore, who was taken by Shia militants at the same time as four British bodyguards at the Iraqi Finance Ministry in 2007, issued a statement expressing his delight at being free after 946 days in captivity.
His safe return has raised hopes of a rapid resolution to the hostage crisis. An Iraqi government spokesman indicated it was not confirmed that the outstanding hostage had been killed. Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, Ali al-Dabbagh said: “We hope McMenemy is still alive. The government is seeking his release. That will be soon, God willing.” He added: “All must be handed over to the British embassy. And that will happen in the coming days.”
The Foreign Office said the British position remained unchanged. A spokeswoman said: “We believe that Alan has been killed and his family have been told our view.”
While the bodies of three of the captives were returned last year, no proof of, or explanation for, Mr McMenemy's fate has been forthcoming. The former paratrooper's father Dennis McMenemy from Dumbarton criticised Britain's handling of the crisis this weekend as “scandalous”. He said: “In the back of my mind I know it's going to be a body that is returned. I'm not happy with the British Government's role because they didn't do enough. If Alan is dead, the British Government will have blood on its hands.”
It has been reported that Mr McMenemy was being used as the final chip to secure the freedom of Iranian-backed militant leader Qais al-Khazali, whose transfer from a US to an Iraqi jail presaged Mr Moore's sudden release.
Yesterday's flurry of activity followed claims by British clergyman Canon Andrew White that there could be grounds for hope. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, the Church of England special envoy said he was told by representatives of the kidnappers three days before Christmas that the Scot would be released with Mr Moore. He said an email last week from the Iraqi minister for human rights Wijdan Salim was upbeat.
Canon White said the three murdered bodyguards — Alec MacLachlan, Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell — had been killed when security forces threatened to storm their hideouts.