`At least we said goodbye'

Laurence Whitehouse, whose wife died in the Yemen hostage shoot- out, talks to Sophie Goodchild
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LAURENCE WHITEHOUSE, whose wife was killed in the Yemen hostage shoot-out, had been warned by a friend about the dangers of kidnapping in Yemen shortly before the trip.

Mr Whitehouse, who is being comforted by friends and family after arriving home on Friday, says he has not slept since the shooting. He dreads the prospect of returning to identify the terrorists who used the holidaymakers as a human shield when the Yemeni authorities sent in troops.

He also paid tribute to his wife, Margaret, whose body was being flown back to this country yesterday with the two other British victims.

"The night before the shooting we were camped out in the desert," he recalled. "The stars were really beautiful and we said that we loved each other that night. At least we had a chance to say goodbye.

"She had an aura about her and was always so cheerful. The last picture I took was of her smiling as she stood by the Indian Ocean. The hardest time is at night when she is not there. I went for a walk today and a friend had a pair of binoculars with him. It reminded me of her because the kidnappers took her binoculars.

"It helps me to play music that we used to listen to. It's going to be hard opening our Christmas presents so I've decided to do it gradually. I'd bought her the Book of the Earth because she wanted to go to New Zealand to see the volcanoes."

The couple's trip to Yemen was to have been one of their last active holidays abroad because of Margaret's arthritis.

"Margaret would wish me to remember the good times," said Mr Whitehouse, 54, who was grazed by bullets in the rescue attempt. "I've been lucky to survive and I've got to use that luck to carry on as she would have wanted. We were lucky to have had 30 years together with few arguments."

Just days before the couple set off on holiday, Mr Whitehouse said he was told by a work colleague about the dangers of kidnapping in Yemen. But he added that Margaret, 52, reassured him that the area they were going to was safe.

"We have been to many countries together and we have a special interest and affinity with Arab people," said the teacher. "When I told Margaret about the kidnappings she said they had all ended satisfactorily. In retrospect, there was not enough protection but how can you protect against machine guns and bazookas?"

Mr Whitehouse fought back tears as he spoke of the woman whom he fell in love with "at first sight" at teacher training college. They had already organised a trip to Tanzania to celebrate the millennium and they planned to take early retirement to indulge their shared love of travel. "I've had so many calls from people who knew her and one of the parents of the children she taught said that they dread telling their child that Margaret is dead," he said.

His last image of his wife was her lying dead on the ground after she had been shot. "I had thought she was safe because she was behind someone," he said. "The whole situation seemed completely unreal, like something out of a film. But when I saw her with part of her face blown away it was clear that it was not a film but a nightmare. I hate the ideology of the kidnappers that they can kill people to get what they want."