Families seek Britons' freedom

THE FAMILIES of two Britons jailed in Iraq spoke of their hopes of winning freedom for their loved ones as they prepared to fly out yesterday to visit them.

Julie Ride, 31, whose husband Paul is serving a seven-year sentence, said at Heathrow airport: 'We won't really know until we actually get there if there's any chance of them coming back with us. It's 50-50, I suppose.' She is taking her son William, nearly two, with her and expects to see her husband tomorrow. Mr Ride, 33, of Walthamstow, east London, was working as a catering manager in Kuwait when he strayed across the border last August and was arrested.

The other Briton, Michael Wainwright, 42, of Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, was arrested in May last year for illegally entering Iraq while on a bicycle tour. He was jailed for 10 years. His sister, Heather Horne, and mother, Iris, are visiting him.

British Red Cross officials are to escort the group. The women avoided the question of whether the British Government should unfreeze millions of dollars in Iraqi assets to secure the Britons' release. Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, has said that if the money was released for humanitarian purposes, Mr Ride and Mr Wainwright might be freed, but Britain insists that Iraq must first comply with all United Nations resolutions.

Asked for her views, Mrs Ride said: 'I don't want to get involved in the political side of it. I don't have a view that I want to voice.'

Mrs Horne said: 'Our main intention is just to visit them. Anything else would be a bonus.'

Michael Whitlam, director general of the British Red Cross, said that the plan was to meet members of the Iraqi government. 'I have to say I am realistic, having undertaken a similar visit just a year or two ago . . . it depends very much on how the Iraqi government feels at this time.'

(Photograph omitted)