Paul and Rachel Chandler: Police should have led rescue bid

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Media captionPaul and Rachel Chandler gave evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee

A couple kidnapped by Somali pirates have criticised the government for putting the Foreign Office in charge of their case, rather than police.

Giving evidence to MPs, Paul and Rachel Chandler said since police had expertise in handling kidnapping cases they should have been put in charge.

The couple, formerly from Kent but now living in Devon, were seized from their yacht near the Seychelles in 2009.

They said the Foreign Office could only offer "tea and sympathy" for relatives.

The Chandlers were released after being held for more than a year after a ransom of up to £620,000 was reportedly paid.

Since no channels for diplomatic efforts were available in lawless Somalia, which has had no central government for the past 20 years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) could offer little help in securing their release, Mr Chandler said.

'Waited too long'

"It's disappointment at the fact that the wrong agency was put in charge," Mr Chandler told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

"That was a worry for me at the time in Somalia.

"I said as much in one of my phone calls to Rachel's brother. I said 'for goodness sake - talk to the police not the FCO'.

"And I'm not being critical of the FCO in making that comment because, if you want to know about criminal kidnapping, why would you go to the FCO?"

He said the FCO waited too long before contacting their family after they were taken hostage while sailing from the Seychelles to Tanzania during a round-the-world trip.

By the time officials contacted the family, their plight had been in the public domain for four days, missing a vital window of opportunity to prevent media coverage and improve their chances of a swift release.

Image caption The Chandlers were taken to the British High Commission in Nairobi after their release

"They should have advised the family not to speak to the media, because it is well-known that by far the best thing for hostages is a press blackout."

The only other advice FCO officials could have given was that there was nothing they could do to help and that they should look for assistance from private sector security experts, he told MPs.

The couple, originally from Tunbridge Wells and now living in Dartmouth, were also critical of FCO efforts to warn British citizens of dangers to their safety through travel advice on its website.

In many parts of the world, internet access is difficult, they said, and suggested that warnings should have been passed on by the British High Commission to the harbour-master in Port Victoria, from where they sailed.

Mrs Chandler said that if they had been warned that there was a high risk of piracy along their intended route south-west from the Seychelles, they would have called off their voyage.

The committee ordered the bulk of the Chandlers' evidence to be heard in private to avoid putting at risk individuals currently being held in Somalia, including British tourist Judith Tebbutt.

Mrs Tebbutt is also being held in Somalia after gunmen struck at a remote beach resort at Kiwayu near Lamu in Kenya in September, killing her husband David.

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