Preacher Maud Kells pays 'substantial' sum to clear trio accused of shooting her
A Northern Ireland missionary shot in Africa has paid a "substantial" amount of money to clear the names of three men wrongly accused of the attack.
Maud Kells is back home in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, following a three-month trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help free the men.
It was the first time the missionary had returned to the war-torn country since being shot in January 2015.
While she did not reveal how much money she handed over, 76-year-old Ms Kells said it was "worth every penny" to ensure the freedom of the trio, one of whom she said saved her life in the aftermath of the attack.
"It was a substantial amount of money," she said. "They asked for a really huge amount of money in the first place, but I refused and then we managed to whittle it down.
"I was able to pay the money using donations from people in Northern Ireland, so I am very grateful to them for making it possible.
"Unfortunately, a lot of African countries are full of bribery and corruption and they will do anything to get a bit of money, especially if a white person is involved.
"I wasn't going to let these men suffer. I knew I had to get them freed, so I had a lot of discussions and we arrived at an out-of-court settlement and eventually got their names cleared."
Ms Kells, who was crowned Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year for 2015, also said she was determined to return to Congo to continue her work as a midwife and bible teacher.
She also wants to ensure work continues on the construction of a nursery school.
"I was away for three months but it was far too short," Ms Kells explained.
"I wanted to go for six months, like I normally do, but my mission wouldn't allow it. They also put on extra security for me - I had a night guard - and they also insisted that someone travel with me.
"I was fortunate that the daughter of someone involved in missionary work took time off from her job in nursing in Glasgow to come with me.
"I wasn't really scared about going back. I put my confidence and trust in God. There is a promise in the Bible, 'Fear thou not for I am with you, I will never leave you or forsake you', so I held on to that promise.
"I wanted to clear the names of the three men if possible, and I wanted to finish building a nursery pre-school that we had started and I wanted to complete a few other projects.
"I went on November 29 and returned back home on March 5, and there was Christmas and New Year.
"There were also medical conferences and I had a lot of visitors, mostly state officials - head of security, the head of the legal department - who all came to see me to discuss the shooting incident. I wanted to talk to them about clearing the names of the falsely accused."
Ms Kells said that two of the men spent time in prison after it was claimed they were involved in the shooting. A third man went in to hiding with his wife and two children.
"He was frightened to come back, but he came back at the beginning of December because I had sent a message to him in the forest to come back," continued Ms Kells.
"His wife was heavily pregnant at the time and I was really concerned about her and her baby. But the Lord really answered my prayers because she had a healthy baby.
"They were very lucky because they were able to find a sort of health centre, although there were no proper nurses or midwives.
"They are actually calling the baby Pamela, after my niece, who has been unwell for three years."
Ms Kells said she was told by officials that one of the men was originally put in prison until he gave a statement about the night she was shot.
She was then told he was being held because he had not shouted when she was shot.
"That was a ridiculous thing to say," she said. "If it wasn't for him I would probably have died that night.
"Everyone was terrified to come near me when they heard the shooting.
"They thought the bandits were still around, and eventually one man got free from the bandit who had him. He was able to get to the pastor and then suddenly everyone appeared."
Ms Wells revealed that she was planning one final trip back to Congo in the hope that she will finally be able to complete the construction work on the nursery school.