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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 15:19 GMT

December: Deborah Hickey

Review of the Year
Darren Hickey was one of four telephone engineers - three Britons and a New Zealander - working for Granger Telecom who were kidnapped in Chechnya in October. They were found beheaded in December.

Darren's sister, Deborah, recalls the family's ordeal.
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Darren went to Chechnya three times in 1998. First in March or April, then in July during the World Cup - he used to phone me for the results. Then he went back in September.

We weren't worried about him. Not at all. He knew what he was about and he had bodyguards 24 hours a day.

The fact that other people had been kidnapped in Chechnya didn't even register with us. Camilla Carr and Jon James were released two weeks before Darren and the others were taken, but even when I saw them coming home it didn't register, it really didn't.

'Seeing his name was terrible'

We heard the news that the men had been kidnapped on a Sunday morning. I had been out the night before and I heard my Mum, my Dad and my Nanna talking outside my bedroom. I asked what the matter was and they said four people had been kidnapped in Chechnya.

I told them to calm down and not to worry. I got onto the Foreign Office and they wouldn't confirm it. I spoke to Granger, who said they thought it was them, but the Foreign Office still wouldn't confirm it.

Eventually a regular at our pub said he had seen it and we called up the pages on teletext. Seeing his name, that was terrible. My heart dropped.

Negotiations and hopes

But after talking to Granger and the Foreign Office, we were very optimistic - right up until near the end.

The company had telephone calls from the four of them and they said they were alright, that they were all together. The last call was only a few days before they were killed.

We weren't actually told that negotiations were going on, but it was quite obvious that Granger were talking to the kidnappers.

They wanted to keep it quiet because they would be criticised for paying a ransom. But I think that anyone who criticises paying a ransom has never had someone they loved in that situation.

Granger felt so bad. They're only a small company - I don't think the kidnappers realised how small.

I know the government's stance was that they don't pay ransoms and that's fair enough because they would be paying all day - but if there's a life at stake, what's money?

Heard on the radio

We heard about the deaths on a Tuesday morning. I went to work as usual, my Mum went to Mass. The company phoned to say that three bodies had been found.

There was so much confusion because there were only three bodies and then we heard that it was only the heads that had been found.

For the whole of that day we were all hoping and praying that it wouldn't be them, even though deep down we all knew.

It wasn't confirmed until the afternoon. I was at a friend's house and was told it would be best if I came home. I just thought "Oh, no!" My legs wouldn't carry me.

I was told by the company, but my Mum was on her way home in the car and heard on the radio. A lot of people from the company heard on the radio as well.

I think the Chechen authorities were wrong to try to rescue them. It was my worst fear. I don't know what they were thinking really. It's really just common sense - if people are under attack they fight back.

In limbo

We're all in limbo at the moment. The Chechens are keeping the heads at the moment while they search for the bodies. The Chechen president has said it would be disrespectful for them to be taken to Moscow without the rest of the bodies.

It's all about their customs, but it means that we can't get any death certificates or official identification because we obviously can't send people into Chechnya.

I just want the bodies home so we can bury them. So we can give them a proper send-off.
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In this section

January: Scott Ritter

February: Touched by an angel

March: Jane Couch

April: Gitta Sereny

May (1): People of Northern Ireland

May (2): Mo Mowlam

June: The England-Argentina referee

July: Gill Samuels, Viagra creator

August: David Shayler

September: Neville Lawrence

October: Ann Widdecombe

November: Sally Becker

December: Deborah Hickey