Chechen Hostages: 'We never thought for a minute he'd be killed'

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The Independent Online
FOR NINE weeks, the near relatives of the four dead men had kept alive their hopes that somehow a safe return for the hostages might be possible. But early yesterday came the first intimations that, instead, their darkest fears were about to be realised.

Foreign Office officials prepared them for bad news early in the day. Later they confirmed that it was almost certain their loved ones had died.

Eamon Hickey, the father of of 26-year-old Darren Hickey, said: "Only last week we heard from Darren and knew that he was alive and well. They all said they were all right and staying in a small hamlet.

"Each one of them was on the phone, and they said the conditions they were being kept in were not too bad."

Speaking outside her parents' pub in Surrey, Darren's sister, Deborah, said: "We are so shocked. I knew it all along but to have it confirmed is devastating. We never thought for a minute that he would be killed. We were told that it would be OK but after today I won't believe anything anymore."

The wife and father of Rudi Petschi were away from their homes in Devon, and were believed to be being comforted by friends and relatives yesterday. Mr Petschi's father, Johann, a retired quarry worker, was widowed earlier this year. Rudi Petschi, 42, a former Royal Signals soldier, had moved into a new house in Cullompton with his wife, Louisa, shortly before he flew to Chechnya. A fluent Russian speaker, he was contracted by Granger Telecom to act as an interpreter.

Les Boyland, who became friends with Mr Petschi during an 85-mile tandem bicycle ride around Devon to raise money for charity, said: "I was looking for someone to help me raise money and he agreed.

"At the time, he was unemployed and looking for work - I think he must have taken that job in Chechnya shortly afterwards. He was a really nice and generous bloke and always very polite. I rang Louisa after I heard of the abduction to wish her well and at that stage she was still hopeful. She said she was looking forward to him being released and was planning a mega party to welcome him home."

Stan Shaw's wife, Lily, and their four-year-old daughter had also left their family home in New Haw, Surrey, yesterday. Yellow ribbons had been tied around the bungalow and to trees on the main road outside. Mr Shaw, aged 58, was a New Zealander. The fourth victim, Peter Kennedy, 46, of Hereford, had been employed as an independent contractor by British Telecommunications to test a satellite telephone link from Chechnya.