Figures in the shadows of hostage trade

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BEFORE THE Chechen security forces blundered on to the scene to fatal effect, the British security consultancy, Control Risks, had been negotiating for the release of the hostages.

A shadowy, Le Carre-esque outfit staffed by former SAS, MI6 and police officers, Control Risks specialises in difficult operations in what are euphemistically known as "emerging markets" or - to the rest of us - extremely dangerous Third World countries.

The firm had been brought in by the hostages' employer, Granger Telecommunications, to deal behind-the-scenes with the kidnappers. According to its own publicity, Control Risks has helped to secure the release of hostages in more than 840 cases of kidnap or political detention since it was founded in 1975. It does not say whether it has ever failed.

One of the firm's key selling points is discretion. Based in an anonymous Victorian red brick shop and office block on Victoria Street, a few hundred yards from Parliament and convenient for Scotland Yard, the firm's modest mission statement is: "To enable our clients to succeed in complex or hostile business environments."

It publishes "Forecast", which gives up-to-date information on political and security risk and forecasting for 120 countries. Spokesman Michael Barron will tell you about the company's basic business of risk assessment, but little else.

Ask about the kidnap and hostage side of the business, and you will be met with a stony silence. Control Risks will not confirm or deny it was involved with Granger and the Chechnya hostages. "We won't say if we work for any company," Mr Barron said.

A former Control Risks staffer who worked on general risk assessment said the ex-SAS and intelligence men - the hostage specialists - work on a separate floor. "There were a number of well-built men who looked uncomfortable in suits," said the source. "These are the experts and it is their work that makes CR's real money."

And a great deal of money can be made. Kidnapping is now a global problem, doubling in the past five years, according to Lloyd's insurance experts. Britons are attractive targets. Last month a British geologist, Jason Pope, was one of four foreigners taken hostage by a Unita unit which attacked a diamond mine in Angola. Nothing official has been heard since.

In the past two years there have been around 12,500 known kidnaps. The average ransom demand is $1m (pounds 600,000).

Set up by four ex-SAS officers in 1975, Control Risks employs 240 people in 12 offices around the world. According to Mr Barron, company turnover is about pounds 20m a year. Only one of the founders, Simon Adamsdale, remains in post. Another, David Walker, left to set up a firm called Saladin Security but faded from public view a decade ago when it was revealed that he had been employed by Oliver North to blow up a hospital in Nicaragua at the height of US covert operations against the Sandinistas.

In the 1980s the company hired on to its board a number of senior police and military figures. Former Metropolitan Police commissioners Sir Robert Mark and Sir Kenneth Newman both worked for the firm, as did former military men such as General Sir Frank King and the terrorism expert Major General Richard Clutterbuck.

After the knife attack on the tennis champion Monica Seles, Control Risks brought in a former FBI chief, Mike Bagley, to advise women players on protection at Wimbledon fortnight.