Page last updated at 10:18 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 11:18 UK

UK hostages 'likely to be dead'

Clockwise from top left: Alan McMenemy, Peter Moore,  Alec Maclachlan, Jason Swindlehurst, Jason Creswell
The five hostages were taken in May 2007

Two more of the British hostages held in Iraq are now thought "very likely" to be dead, the BBC has learned.

Security guards Alan McMenemy, from Glasgow, and Alec Maclachlan, from south Wales, were kidnapped in 2007 along with three other Britons.

The bodies of two of the other men were found last month with gunshot wounds.

The condition of the fifth man, Peter Moore, from Lincoln, is unknown. The five families said in a statement they were undergoing a "terrible ordeal".

The Foreign Office says all efforts are being made to secure the release of the three men unaccounted for.

The families' joint statement said: "We are all deeply upset and troubled to hear the reports that Alec and Alan have died in the hands of their captors, as well as Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell.

"We ask those holding our men for compassion when so many are working hard for reconciliation in Iraq and we continue to pray for the safe return of our men."

Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner

The revelation that four out of the five British hostages in Iraq are now thought to be dead will inevitably prompt questions as to how the Foreign Office has handled this.

Britain has a longstanding policy of "not making substantive concessions to kidnappers" as the government believes it only encourages more kidnapping.

But that does not rule out secret, behind-the-scenes negotiations and earlier this year there were encouraging signs of progress.

It was hoped that with the gradual normalisation of Iraq's political scene the kidnappers would be persuaded to release their captives and that the US, which is drawing down its forces in Iraq, would gradually empty detention centres and hand over prisoners to Iraq's government.

But it seems the kidnappers, while negotiating, had already murdered some of their British captives.

They are likely to demand concessions before handing over the bodies of the latest victims.

Mr Moore had been working for American management consultancy Bearingpoint in Iraq, while the other men were security contractors employed to guard him.

The group was captured at Baghdad's Ministry of Finance in May 2007 by about 40 men disguised as Iraqi policemen.

They are understood to belong to an obscure militia known as Islamic Shia Resistance in Iraq.

The group has been demanding the release of up to nine of their associates held in US military custody since early 2007.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the Foreign Office told the families of Mr McMenemy and Mr Maclachlan last week that the men had most likely died while in captivity.

And he revealed the kidnappers told the British government a month ago they had two more bodies.

"At the time the hostage-takers handed over the bodies of the two other security guards - Jason Creswell and Jason Swindlehurst - they let it be known that they had two more bodies," he said.

While the claims could not be verified at first, government sources said the Foreign Office now believed them to be true and was focusing on securing the release of IT consultant Peter Moore, our correspondent added.

The last proof of life sent by his kidnappers was a video handed over in March, but it is not known when the film was made or if he is still alive today.

His grandmother, Edna Moore, 84, of Wigston, Leicestershire, said the family could "only hope" for Mr Moore's safe return.

"God help the other families. There's not much we can do, we feel so helpless."

Mr Moore's estranged father, Graeme Moore, 59, who was not a nominated next-of-kin and had not seen his son for several years, criticised the Foreign Office's handling of the case.

'Mishandled'

"It is just a lottery at the moment as to what happens," he said.

"This just proves that the Foreign Office has mishandled it. There were rumours two weeks ago that the two bodyguards had been shot dead."

Rev Pauline Barnett, who knows Mr Maclachlan's family, said: "This is dreadful news. If this is true then we are devastated, it's an awful conclusion."

The Foreign Office will not discuss operational details of the case.

However, a spokeswoman said: "We continue to work intensively for the release of the hostages still held in this highly complex case and are extremely concerned for their safety."

Jason Creswell (left) and Jason Swindlehurst
The bodies of Jason Creswell and Jason Swindlehurst were found in June

The bodies of Mr Swindlehurst, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and Mr Creswell, from Glasgow, were flown back to the UK last month.

News of their deaths came shortly after speculation that a deal to free all five men alive could be close.

Security experts understood there had been positive diplomatic moves behind the scenes, including the release of a prisoner - whose freedom was being demanded by the hostage-takers - from detention by the Americans.

The Foreign Office insists the British government has not been directly involved in negotiations and that the Iraqi authorities acted as lead negotiator.

Little is known about the captives because of a media blackout during a large period of their captivity.

It originally came on the instruction of the hostage-takers who said they did not want publicity.

This has been Britain's longest running hostage crisis for nearly 20 years.



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