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1991: 'It's over' - Terry Waite returns home
Church envoy Terry Waite went to Beirut in January 1987 to negotiate the release of several hostages being held there.

But he ended up a hostage himself and was held captive for 1,760 days before being released on 18 November 1991.

I remember saying three things to myself after I was taken hostage which somehow stood me in good stead.

No regrets - you haven't done everything correctly, you're bound to have made mistakes, but stick by what you've done.

No self pity - don't begin to feel sorry for yourself, there are loads of people who are in worse situations than yourself.

And no over-sentimentality - don't look back and say, "If only I'd spent more time with the family and had longer holidays - life has been lived, you cannot re-live it".

Solitary confinement

But I had no contact at all with my family for five years - they didn't know that I was alive or dead for about four years when the news got to them from the Irish hostage Brian Keenan.

Brian knew I had been in the next cell and of course when he was released he went and told my wife.

I was in solitary confinement and I used to communicate with hostages in the cell next door by tapping on the wall in code.

You can't use Morse code on a wall because you can't differentiate between a dot and a dash, but you can use the laborious code of one for A, two for B, three for C.

For about nine months I depended on the news being tapped through the wall

It was then that I regretted my name was Terry Waite, because it's a long way down the alphabet when you want to communicate your name.

However, I communicated with them, they had a radio and for about nine months I depended on the news being tapped through the wall.

In the last six months my captors relented and I was given a small radio.

I listened to the BBC World Service constantly and I was enormously grateful, particularly for the fact that at the time they were broadcasting virtually 24 hours-a-day to the Middle East.

I heard my cousin John broadcasting on Outlook and that meant a great deal to me because John, in a subtle way, got me news from my family.


He also broadcast on my birthday and played a piece of Bach's organ music for me as a gift from the family.

It was a great source of hope and comfort to me, that something was getting through to me from my family.

Because although I had to put my family and friends out of my mind - to dwell on them would have made me unnecessarily depressed - I was always concerned about them.

And particularly about my children - the eldest of whom were in university, and I thought perhaps my actions had wrecked their family life.

That wasn't true because I underestimated the enormous resilience of children and the enormous strength of my wife to deal with this very complex situation.

Final journey

We were gradually aware of the fact that we would be set free.

When it did happen it was really rather a low key event.

They simply came into the room and said, "You're going to be released", and threw in some clothes, which were all far too small - I looked ridiculous.

I was taken out, blindfolded again, put into the boot of a car, then another car, and when they took the blindfold off I was with a Syrian intelligence operative, who drove me to the Syrian intelligence headquarters.

I regarded myself as being still on duty until such time as I could sign-off

When I was on the plane coming from Cyprus to RAF Lyneham a former colleague of mine, Richard Chartres, who is now Bishop of London, came out to meet me - and I'm very glad he did.

Richard said it would be very appropriate if, before meeting my family, I made a statement and deliver it to the press - to satisfy them and they could then go their own ways.

I also regarded myself as being still on duty until such time as I could sign-off by making that statement, so I quickly jotted a few notes down on the back of a bit of paper.

I went into the hangar and made this impromptu speech, when I said what I had to say about hostages and hostage-taking and what I'd attempted to do.


Then I left the hangar and thought, "That's it, it's over".

And I met my family for the first time and it was quite emotional.

My son who was a teenager when I'd been captured had now grown up and I didn't recognise him - he'd changed so much.

I remember my youngest daughter simply saying to me, "Daddy, take all the help that they're going to give you here."

That I did, and I'm enormously grateful for the supportive help the RAF medical staff gave both to me and my family during those first days of release.

You can read Terry Waite's account of his capture by clicking on the link in the right-hand column.

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Terry Waite arriving at RAF Lyneham airbase in the UK
Terry Waite had been cut off from almost all communication for years

Terry Waite's wife Frances (C) surrounded by twins Ruth and Clare, Gillian and Mark
The Waite family did not know if he was alive or dead for most of his captivity
In Context
Terry Waite faced renewed questions over his role in the American arms for hostages scandal almost immediately after his release.

And sections of the media also accused him of being an egotist in pursuit of personal glory.

But the former negotiator insists that if he had been an agent for the CIA he would have been killed in captivity.

And although he freely admits his motives were not purely altruistic, he says his concern for the hostages' plight was genuine and the media's allegations "were even more painful" than his imprisonment.

Mr Waite is now an author and lecturer.

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