Hostages are 'ordered to change story'

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The Independent Online
A DIPLOMATIC row is threatening to spill over in the wake of the bungled Yemen hostage rescue, which left four dead, after it emerged that Yemeni secret police urged survivors to change their statements to absolve the authorities of blame.

The claim was made last night by one of the survivors, David Holmes, a teacher from Grimsby, who said pressure was put on a fellow British hostage, Laurence Whitehouse, during his lengthy debriefing by Yemeni authorities to change his account of how his wife, Margaret, was shot dead during the rescue.

Mr Whitehouse is said to have been instructed by an unnamed Yemeni secret police colonel to remove the remark regarding the fatal bullet that it "could have been anybody's".

The rescue attempt by the Yemeni government was carried out despite repeated requests from Britain for peaceful methods to be used to free the 16 Western tourists abducted at gunpoint by Islamic fundamentalists.

Yesterday, the Yemeni ambassador in London was summoned to the Foreign Office to be told of Britain's dissatisfaction with the way the siege was ended. Some survivors of the kidnap have said that it was the Yemeni security forces who started the shooting in which three Britons - Dr Peter Rowe, 60, Ruth Williamson, 34, and Margaret Whitehouse, 52 - and a 35-year-old Australian, Andrew Thirsk, were killed.

Yesterday's Foreign Office meeting followed a brief meeting between Victor Henderson, the British ambassador in Sanaa, and the Yemeni Foreign and Interior Ministers.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are continuing to press for a full account."

Yesterday, the freed holidaymakers recovered in a hotel in the Yemeni port of Aden and calmly recounted their experiences over bottles of beer. Two women injured in the rescue - one British, one Australian - have had emergency surgery.

Eric Firkins, a primary school teacher from Croydon, south London, said: 'The army started it, without a doubt."

The survivors say mortar fire was echoing round the black volcanic hills of southern Yemen as the shoot-out took place, and machine-gun fire blazed right above their heads.

Mr Holmes said: "The way we have been treated is pitiful. What Mr Whitehouse has been forced to say is complete and utter lies."

In the thick of the battle, Mr Whitehouse, a 54-year-old teacher from Farnborough, watched his wife go to the aid of an Australian man who had been shot in the groin. "She was shot in the ankle," he said "and then she was shot in the head and died instantly."

Another hostage, Mary Quinn, escaped from her captor by kicking him in the face after he stumbled on rocks.

The kidnappers told the hostages they were demanding the release of their leader, who had been arrested recently.

A little-known guerrilla group, the Aden Abyan Islamic Army, has claimed responsibility for the abductions.

The survivors are expected to fly home today.