Bodies of Chechnya victims flown home

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THREE WEEKS after the severed heads of the four kidnapped telecommunications workers were found by a road in Chechnya, their families were finally able to collect their bodies yesterday.

The remains of the men, whose bodies were found on Christmas Day, were flown to Gatwick from Baku, Azerbaijan. But although the relatives of Darren Hickey, Rudolf Petschi, Peter Kennedy and the New Zealander Stanley Shaw were relieved they had been brought home, they still face an agonising wait until the funerals.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the bodies would have to be formally identified and inquests opened before their relatives can bury them.

Mr Hickey's father, Eamonn, said: "It is a relief ... that they are finally coming home. We are still devastated but at least there will be a funeral after all."

The men were kidnapped in the Chechen capital, Grozny, in October while working in the separatist Soviet republic. They had been working for Granger Telecom, of Surrey, on a contract to install telephone systems in Chechnya.

At the time of the kidnapping, Granger and British Telecommunications, which was employing Mr Kennedy, defended the decision to work in Chechnya - a territory the Foreign Office "strongly advises against" visiting.

The men's heads were found on 8 December after a bungled rescue attempt but the kidnappers refused to hand over the rest of the remains. They were apparently demanding money and immunity from prosecution before releasing the bodies.

Foreign Office officials were also at the airport to meet the bodies yesterday. A spokesman said the families could plan the funerals but it was not known when they would be. "There are a number of formal procedures to go through but they can make arrangements for the funerals," he said.