Families of `Chechen Four' want truth

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The Independent Online
FOREIGN Office minister Tony Lloyd was last night under growing pressure to explain the full details of the Government's dealings with the four engineers who were murdered in Chechnya last month.

Yesterday The Independent revealed that, despite publicly insisting it had advised the men not to travel there, it had actually asked them to report back on conditions in Chechnya. The developments come as the family of one of the victims, Darren Hickey, prepare to bury the 26-year- old at a Roman Catholic Church in Kingston, Surrey today. Mr Hickey's sister Deborah, said yesterday: "It's hypocritical of the Foreign Office. When the men were killed they were blaming Granger Telecom. They knew that this had been going on."

Yesterday Tory foreign affairs spokeswoman Cheryl Gillan demanded a full explanation of what the Government had said to Granger Telecom, which employed three of the men. Yesterday she wrote to Mr Lloyd saying: "You refer to the department's `formal advice'. This begs the question as to whether informal advice was given. You also pose a series of questions which would give the impression to any reasonable person that you were more than content to allow Granger's work to continue.

"The tone of the letter clearly could be interpreted as informal encouragement to the company to ... provide information to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

Three of the men, Rudolf Petschi, 42, Darren Hickey and Stanley Shaw, 58, were employed by Granger to install mobile telephone equipment. A fourth, Peter Kennedy 46, worked for British Telecom

After the men were kidnapped, in October last year, the Foreign Office insisted that its advice had been not to travel to Chechnya. After they were executed, Mr Lloyd told the Commons, that the advice had been "clear and unambiguous". But in a letter written last August, the Foreign Office said that since the company was in Chechnya it would "welcome" its views on the opportunities for investment, the influential people in the republic and any information about Jon James and Camilla Carr, two British aid workers who were being held hostage in Chechnya.

Peter Kennedy's MP, Liberal Democrat Paul Keetch, said yesterday he did not think there was anything wrong with asking the company to report back on Ms Carr and Mr James. But he added: "There is a need for an inquiry, not only into what was said but on the whole issue of travel advice given to people travelling to dangerous places."

A Foreign Office spokesman refused to say whether anyinformation was passed to the intelligence services but said it would have been "irresponsible in the extreme" not to ask about Mr James and Ms Carr.