Kidnapped workers were due home in a few days

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The Independent Online
The family of Darren Hickey would, under normal circumstances, have been looking forward to the next few days.

This week the young engineer was due to arrive back in Britain after working in Chechnya for the past two months. Now, his family face the realisation that he and three colleagues are being held hostage in a country in which even the Foreign Office considers too dangerous to base its officials.

Mr Hickey, with Rudi Petschi and Stanley Shaw, was employed by Granger Telecom, based in Weybridge, Surrey. The fourth kidnapped engineer, Peter Kennedy, 46, was on contract to British Telecom.

All were working for Chechen Telecom, which had apparently guaranteed their safety.

Mr Hickey, 27, had been living with his parents, Eamonn and Maura, who run a pub in Thames Ditton, Surrey. Yesterday they were too upset to go to work.

"We just want him back. He was just out there doing a job to help the country get their communications back," said his sister Deborah, 21. "We are all devastated. We never expected this. He had been over there before and never said anything bad about it."

Contrary to some suggestions that the engineers were earning vast sums of "danger money", Ms Hickey said her brother was earning pounds 20,000 to pounds 25,000 a year.

"He was very happy when he got the job. He was quite excited when he first went out there. He's very clever and I think it was an opportunity to get better at things," she said.

"We have spoken to the bodyguards before and everyone out there is very good. It's just a serious shock."

She said she did not blame Granger. "It's no one's fault. Darren is old enough to make his own decision to go out there or not," she said.

"He'd been out there before when they heard gunfire and he said that was part of it. It was the third time and he thought there was no danger at all."

The family of the New Zealander, Stan Shaw, 58, revealed he had only been working in Chechnya for a week. He was also due home soon.

His wife, Lily, 40, said she was "sickened by worry" for her husband and said the couple's daughter Priscilla, four, had been crying for her father.

"I never know whether the places he goes to are safe or not," said Mrs Shaw, from Surrey. "I am sure he knows Chechnya is dangerous but he did not say so - he would not want me to worry."

It emerged yesterday that Mr Petschi, 42, from Cullompton, Devon, had been working with the group as an interpreter. He had been in Chechnya for under 20 days.

Mr Petschi's father, Johann, was yesterday comforting his daughter-in- law, Louise. A neighbour, Joan Ennis, said: "The kidnapping is a terrible blow. Both John's children have lived away from home for a long time and Rudi is an interpreter who has lived in Cambridge and up country but has just bought a brand new home in London."

A spokesman for Granger Telecom said the three kidnapped staff were strong and resilient characters. He said they were more likely to be concerned about their families than their own circumstances.

Relatives of all the families are due to meet Foreign Office officials today. The meeting will be with officials specialised in hostage incidents.

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