The father of one of five Britons kidnapped in Iraq has accused Gordon Brown and his Government of "abandoning" the men after it emerged that the SAS unit which was supposed to mount a rescue operation has been transferred to Afghanistan.
This week marks the second anniversary of the disappearance of Peter Moore, a computer consultant from Lincoln, and four bodyguards: two men from Scotland, Alan and Jason, and two from Wales, Alec and another Jason. All five were kidnapped on May 29, 2007 by 40 men wearing police uniforms at the Iraqi finance ministry. The bodyguards' full names have been withheld at the Government's request.
Relatives of the hostages were asked by the Foreign Office and the Canadian security company which employs the guards not to speak about the issue because it might jeopardise their chances of release. But Mr Moore's father Graeme, 59, a delivery driver from Leicestershire, said he felt the plight of the five had been forgotten. Relatives were not told about the SAS leaving Iraq, he added.
"I have received no help from the Foreign Office. They have not told me what is going on and what little news I get is from other sources," he said. "It has been a very long time now since they were kidnapped. I feel they have been abandoned.
"The worst thing is not knowing what is going on, not being told why Peter and the others are still not back. I hear from people that Peter is alright, but I feel angry that the Government is not giving me any information."
The hostages' families have endured a harrowing time since the abduction. Three videos showing the men, looking ill and distressed, have been released by their captors. On one Mr Moore is heard to say: "I just want to get out of here. Nothing is happening."
In July, a Shia militant group released a video claiming that one of the men named Jason had become depressed and committed suicide, but this has not been officially confirmed. There have also been intermittent reports that the men will be freed, only for their families' hopes to be dashed.
SAS soldiers have carried out several raids with Iraqi and US forces in an attempt to free the hostages, but General David Petraeus, the American commander of allied forces in Iraq at the time, said: "There have been several operations to try to rescue them, We just have not had the right intelligence".
Rescue missions may in future be carried out by Iraqi and US troops, although the latter are due to leave the country by 2011. British and American officials acknowledge that the absence of UK troops after their withdrawal from Iraq might mean the issue of the British hostages will slip down the list of priorities for the Iraqi regime.
An Arabic website claimed recently that talks about the British prisoners were taking place between the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or "League of the Righteous", militia group and the government in Baghdad. It reported that the kidnappers believed a deal was imminent, but that it was conditional on the release of Laith al-Khazali, the brother of the group's founder Qais al-Khazali, and Ali Moussa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hizbollah commander who was captured in Iraq in 2007. However, a senior interior ministry official said yesterday that no agreement had been reached with the kidnappers, although the talks would continue.
Mr Moore took a lucrative job in Iraq to pay off his student loan after years of voluntary service overseas on an allowance of £140 a month. He was working for the US management consultancy BearingPoint when he was seized in Sadr City. The other men were working for GardaWorld, an international security company based in Montreal. A public relations firm working for GardaWorld said it was handling all matters relating to hostages' families, although it did not represent Mr Moore's father.
Friends of Mr Moore have set up the For Pete's Sake website with the intention of mirroring campaigns that led to the release of the former Middle East hostages Terry Waite and Alan Johnston, because they felt his case was being forgotten by the public.
Mr Moore Snr said: "I keep hoping I will be hearing soon that Peter will be released. We are all hoping the negotiations work out and all of them will be freed. I am very glad his friends have set up this website because I don't think we can rely on the Government to tell us what is going on."
A friend of the Moore family, businessman Malcolm Moore (who is not related to the computer expert), said: "In the past, when we have had kidnappings like Terry Waite and John McCarthy, and Alan Johnston, there have been campaigns to keep their names in the public eye. We have had nothing like that with Peter and the others because we are told that is what the Foreign Office wants. I do think it is important to keep reminding people that these people are missing and hoping and praying that they get back."
The 57-year-old added that a candle for Peter was burning at Lincoln Cathedral and would "remain lit until he returns". David Thomas, a friend who helped set up the website, added: "Peter is a wonderful man who spent a lot of his time doing voluntary work abroad. He may not be a public figure but he deserves to be remembered."
Last night, the Government insisted that everything possible was being done to secure the safe return of the men. However, it maintained its stance that there would be no direct talks with the kidnappers, no ransoms would be paid and no Iraqi prisoners would be swapped for the Britons. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We continue to do everything we can to try and secure the safe release of the hostages and remain extremely concerned about their safety. We call on those holding them to release them immediately and unconditionally so that they can reunited their families and friends."
The SAS: Scourge of Iraq's kidnappers
*Little has been revealed about the role of the SAS in Baghdad – partly because of the desire of some senior officers in the UK military for inherent secrecy in regards to special forces and partly because the British government did not want publicity about working alongside the Americans in an unpopular war and often controversial operations.
The SAS were deployed in the Iraqi capital as part of a clandestine unit called 'Task Force Black' which also included the US Delta Forces on at least on one operation, including the rescue of British hostage Norman Kember and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden.
The main task of the UK special forces in central Iraq – which along with an SAS sabre squadron included the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the Special Forces Support Group and 18 (UKSF) Signal Regiment – was counter-insurgency and the troops had been credited by the Americans with a number of triumphs.
But the British SF also took the lead in the hunt for British subjects who had been kidnapped. As well as the successful freeing of Mr Kember and his companions, they had taken part in the ultimately failed attempts to save Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan.
The achievements of the SAS in Iraq led to the US requesting their presence in Afghanistan for the expected 'surge' against the Taliban. They will be fighting alongside members of the SBS who have had their successes in that war.