Page last updated at 04:53 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 05:53 UK

Hostage families' agony goes on

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Families of the kidnapped men speak of their ordeal

By Frank Gardner
Security correspondent, BBC News

When Pauline Sweeney saw new video footage featuring her stepson Peter Moore, it gave her fresh hope.

She said Mr Moore - a computer expert captured with his four security guards whilst working in Iraq's Finance Ministry in May 2007 - seemed in a much better state.

"He looked a lot, lot healthier, a lot better than the first video which was very distressing," she said.

Marie, mother of hostage Jason
Jason's not one to take his own life, no way
Marie, mother of Jason

"All the way through the video he spoke in the plural," said Mrs Sweeney, of the most recent footage released by his captors in March as a "goodwill" gesture to the UK government.

"All the videos have been in the singular in the past, which made us think that probably they are all together now.

"[That] is wonderful as far as I'm concerned because they'll all be there bullying each other along."

This is a key detail, because last year it was announced that one of the hostages, known only as Jason, had committed suicide.

His mother Marie refuses to believe this.

"Jason is a very strong guy," she said.

"So when we got the news that he had taken his own life we just didn't believe it.

"Jason's not that sort of guy, he's very strong, very wilful, very outspoken and he's not one to take his own life, no way."

The families have been told that the atmosphere in Iraq is much more conducive now to a peaceful resolution.

Constant ordeal

But for them, every day remains an ordeal.

Jan, a friend of another captive, also called Jason, said his seven-year-old daughter Maddi had written her missing father a letter.

"She sent me this last night, she asked if I could get a message to her dad."

Maddi's letter
To Daddy - I miss you very much

It reads: "To Daddy, I miss you very much, we all want you to come home. I love you very much...

"When you come back I will give you the biggest huge hug.

"We will never give up until you come home. I love you and miss you so much. Lots of kisses, Maddi."

But insights like this into the lives of the hostage families are rare.

For most of the time there has been a media blackout on this story.

Roseleen, the wife of a hostage called Alan, said both the families and the Foreign Office had decided it should apply.

"Initially it was the Foreign Office advice but we followed that and I think as families I think we are all happy with the limited coverage that there is at the moment," she said.

"We believe it is in the best interests of our loved ones".

The media blackout, added Mrs Sweeney, originally came from the insurgents who said they did not want publicity.

But in December 2007 they broke their silence with a video showing a hostage flanked by gunmen and threatening to kill him.

Since then there have been on-off negotiations conducted through intermediaries.

Confusing world

The Foreign Office says Britain has a longstanding and proven policy of never making substantial concessions to kidnappers.

However, in the confusing world of Iraqi tribal politics and power broking there are many who would like to see this crisis brought to a peaceful end.

The prospects for the men's release, many believe, are better now than they were a year ago and have just been put back by the recent upsurge in general violence.

But the Iraq of today, says UK Foreign Secretary David Milliband, is a different place to that of two years ago.

"There are signs of progress and reconciliation as the Iraqi people show their commitment to a democratic and peaceful future," he said.

"Hostage-taking has no part in that future.

"We call on those holding all hostages to release them immediately and unconditionally and return them safely to their families where they belong."

For the families of the five Britons now preparing to begin their third year in captivity, the hope is that the men will somehow get to hear that their plight is not forgotten, that their families are waiting for the day they come home and that life for their loved ones can resume.



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