Somali pirates free UK couple Paul and Rachel Chandler

Rachel and Paul Chandler speak to the BBC's Andrew Harding in Mogadishu

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A retired British couple have been released by Somali pirates after being held captive for more than a year.

Paul, 60, and Rachel Chandler, 56, from Kent, were seized from their yacht off the Seychelles in October 2009.

Mrs Chandler said: "I'm enjoying being free". The couple said they were fine, but will undergo medical checks.

On release they were taken to Adado, then Mogadishu, and have now arrived in Kenya. The BBC held off reporting the release due to an injunction.

It observed the terms of the order obtained by the Chandlers' family which was intended to stop news organisations covering their release until they were safely out of Somalia.

Mr Chandler told the BBC: "We're fine, we're rather skinny and bony but we're fine."

Rachel Chandler Rachel Chandler and her husband said they were fine after their ordeal

The couple were told they were to be released two days ago, he said.

"We were told on Friday in a way which gave us some confidence to believe it. Otherwise we'd been told we'd be released in 10 days almost every 10 days for the past nine months. So we'd taken all these suggestions with a pinch of salt."

Asked if he had felt their lives had been in danger during captivity, he said: "That's something we'll talk about later, but we were not really directly endangered by the gang, after the initial seizure."

The husband and wife both stressed that the conditions of their captivity were not important, with Mr Chandler saying: "You can see from our state that we suffered no serious physical harm."

However, he added: "We were beaten once."

Mrs Chandler later explained that the beating had happened when they resisted their captors' attempt to separate them - an event she said was "very traumatic".

Prime Minister David Cameron described the release as "tremendous news".

"We will ensure that they are reunited with their family as quickly as possible.

"I unreservedly condemn the actions of those that held the Chandlers for so long. Kidnapping is never justified."

Family 'overjoyed'

Will Ross on what lies ahead for the Chandlers, seen here hours after their release

The couple are now in the British High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya's capital.

A statement issued by the Chandler family, issued once the couple had arrived in Nairobi, said that although the couple looked to be in "relatively good health... we cannot yet be certain how the difficulties that they have had to endure in recent months will have affected them physically and emotionally".

There was no official word on whether a ransom was paid, but the BBC's Frank Gardner said it was "the best part of $1 million".

A payment of about $430,000 (£267,000) was made in June, but did not result in the release of the Chandlers, he added.

Our correspondent said it was thought unlikely any of those responsible will be brought to justice in Somalia, a country without an effective government since 1991.

Media speculation was thought to have influenced the pirates, and so the family opted for a super-injunction banning coverage of the kidnap.

Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated the long-standing British policy of not paying ransoms.

"I think it is right that successive British governments have said we don't make concessions to hostage-takers. But it is also right to do everything else we have done in this case and that the previous government did.

"We have used our contacts in the region to try to gain information and to influence the hostage-takers. But no British government is going to start paying ransoms for hostages."

Paul Chandler Paul Chandler said he hoped to return to sea

The Chandler family statement said: "The family believes it would be irresponsible to discuss any aspect of the release process as this could encourage others to capture private individuals and demand large ransom payments, something that we are sure none of us wants."

Earlier in the Somali capital Mogadishu, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed met the couple and said the government was pleased they had been freed.

He said the government had "exerted every humanly possible effort to bring you back to your loved ones".

Trauma and recovery

Baroness Kinnock, who was involved in the case during her time as Foreign Office minister for Africa, said: "The trauma will have been terrible for them, and they'll need a lot of help and support."

She said there had been "a lot of activity" in the Foreign Office, but it was difficult to make contact with the pirates.

Any ransom payment by the UK government would "cause an escalation of this kind of activity", she said.

In June, the couple asked Mr Cameron whether he was willing to negotiate with the kidnappers.

But the Foreign Office said at the time that the UK government's policy of "not making or facilitating substantive concessions to hostage-takers, including the payment of ransoms, is long-standing and clear".

Earlier this year their captors threatened to kill the couple if their demands for $7m (£4.4m) were not met.

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