Bishop's Stortford: Kidnapped Woman Returns Home

22 March 2012, 09:58

A Bishop's Stortford woman snatched by pirates from an east African island is expected to return home today (Thursday March 22nd) after being released from captivity.

Judith Tebbutt revealed she did not know that they had killed her husband for two weeks after she was kidnapped.

She was held hostage for more than six months after she was kidnapped off the Kenyan coast, but she was "hugely relieved'' to be free.
News of her ordeal came after her release from captivity, when a ransom was reportedly raised by relatives.

Mrs Tebbutt was taken from the remote Kiwayu Safari Village, close to the border with Somalia, last September by a gang who killed her husband David, 58.

She said in a video broadcast by the BBC: "He was a good man. That was very unfortunate, really horrible. But you just need to pick up the pieces and move on.

"I didn't know he'd died until about, I think it was two weeks from my capture. I just assumed he was alive, but then my son told me he'd died. That was difficult.

"And it must have been hard for my son as well, very hard, and he's been fantastic, he's been absolutely fantastic, I don't know how he secured my release, but he did, and I'm really happy, I can't wait to see him, really.''

Mrs Tebbutt has been reunited with her son Oliver at the British High Commission in Nairobi and is expected to be returning to the UK today.

In a statement, she said: "I am of course hugely relieved to at last be free, and overjoyed to be reunited with my son Ollie.

"This, however, is a time when my joy at being safe again is overwhelmed by my immense grief, shared by Ollie and the wider family, following David's passing in September last year. My family and I now need to grieve properly.

"I would like to thank everybody who has supported Ollie throughout this ordeal. I am now looking forward to returning home to family and friends whom I have missed so very much.''

It was reported Mrs Tebbutt's family paid a ransom of 1.3m US dollars (#800,000) for her release.

The Times said the payment was authorised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) because although the pirates are a criminal gang, they are not recognised as terrorists.

It was reported a private security company, Control Risks, negotiated with the group for months, and arranged for the cash to be dropped from an aircraft.

A spokesman for the FCO said: "The Foreign Office did not make or facilitate the payment of a ransom.''

Farmhand Ali Babitu Kololo, 25, has been charged in connection with the attack.

He is said to have claimed he was forced to co-operate with the gang at gunpoint and had voluntarily gone to the police the next day to report the crime.

According to the Daily Mail he appeared in court in Kenya yesterday, and his case was adjourned until next month.

The Tebbutts, from Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, had arrived at the safari village after visiting the Masai Mara game reserve and were the resort's only guests.

Mrs Tebbutt told ITV News the pirates made her "feel as comfortable as possible''.

Speaking before she was released, she said: "My condition is good as far as I know.

"My health is good. I sleep very well here. I have been ill three times in the seven months.

"On each occasion I have had medication almost immediately and it's cleared up.

"I am really happy that I am being released and I am looking forward to seeing my son and my family and I am going home.

"I feel fine. I have had absolutely no torture whatsoever. In fact I have been made to feel as comfortable as possible by the pirates that are holding me.''

Rachel Chandler, who with husband Paul, spent 388 days in captivity after they were abducted at gunpoint by Somali pirates while sailing their yacht near the Seychelles in October 2009,  said: ``My feeling is one of relief and happiness for Judith Tebbutt and her family, that finally she is free.''

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: ``We can confirm that she has been released.

"Our priority now is to get her to a place of safety.

"We will have more to say about that shortly. We are standing by to provide consular care as soon as she arrives in Nairobi.''

Asked whether the Government was aware of a ransom being paid, the spokesman said: "Our position is that we do not pay ransoms and we do not facilitate concessions to hostage-takers.''

Mr Tebbutt was shot when a gang raided the couple's beach cottage in the early-hours attack.

His wife, believed to be deaf and to wear twin hearing aids, is said to have been bundled into a boat which sped away from the isolated island resort.

The gang were at one point thought to be from al Qaida-linked insurgent group al Shabab, which holds much of southern Somalia, though there were also reports that the attack was carried out by pirates.

Mrs Tebbutt's mother Gladys Atkinson, 90, from Ulverston, Cumbria, told the North West Evening Mail: "At the moment I just can't believe it. It's been six months and I just can't wait to see her.

"She was born here. All the neighbours have been so nice.''

Mrs Tebbutt's sister Carol McDougall, 51, added: "The last six months have been very worrying for Ollie her son, and losing David who was such a lovely man.

"I did believe this (day) would happen because Jude is very strong, she is a strong person.''