It was probably only the British ancestry of Rad John Charles Herbert Baan that saved him from being lynched in a Baghdad jail.

For more than two years, the Kuwaiti singer lived on Iraq's equivalent of death row, awaiting execution for muttering "son of a bitch" at television pictures of Saddam Hussein.

Each morning, he waited in a large hall with the rest of the condemned prisoners, listening for his number (887) to be called as the hangman selected his victims for the day.

The conditions inside the Iraqi prisons were appalling. Initially, he was housed in a building with 1,200 others -some of them dying - ankle deep in excrement and water.

For hours he tried to stay on his feet but exhaustion forced him to sit down.

As Baan was moved around the Iraqi jail system, he was subjected to vicious beatings - described by Iraqi guards as "washings". His legs were broken, his toe nails were pulled out and he was tortured with electric shocks. He watched other prisoners being shot and their bodies thrown into the streets.

"In the end I was not thinking about beating or torture," he says, "but when they were going to come for me with the rope; how I would fall, to the left or the right and what the pain in my neck would be like."

The prison conditions were all the harder to bear for someone who had been used to a life of luxury. As a singer who regularly performed for wealthy sheikhs and the royal families in the Gulf States, he employed servants and owned four cars. On trips to London, he stayed in the Dorchester.

But his extravagance was his undoing after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when he took out his Mercedes to go and buy food. Iraqi soldiers confiscated the car and trumped up charges of theft.

At first, the Iraqi authorities used him as an interpreter. But he fell into serious trouble after accepting an offer from a Kurd, who said he could smuggle him out of Iraq.

He was taken to a hotel room, where he was secretly filmed by Iraqi secret police, swearing at pictures of Saddam.

Iraqi intelligence later tried to recruit Baan as an operative, suggesting that the singer could gain access to royal palaces as a car bomber. He was probably only saved from execution by his Western roots. The grandson of a British army officer, he had grown up in Kuwait as the Muslim son of an Anglo-Indian father and an Iraqi mother. Mr Baan's guards recognised the opportunities for extorting bribes from his family and decided to keep him alive.

He was eventually allowed to contact his family, who sold all their business interests to pay a pounds 250,000 bribe for Baan's name to be added to a list of prisoners released under an amnesty on Saddam's birthday.

Despite severe injuries, he walked across miles of desert to reach Saudi Arabia, where a border guard recognised his face from a picture on a tape.

Baan, now 38, came to Britain as a refugee and has for the past two years been living alone in a north London council flat and undergoing treatment and counselling at the Medical Foundation. "Here you have proper treatment in torturing matters," he said. "I came from a society where if a man cries, he is not a man. But when somebody is tortured you cannot treat them just by fixing their broken leg."