They have been held hostage in Iraq for nearly 19 months, largely forgotten in Britain because of an official government policy to discourage publicity.
But yesterday relatives and friends of five British men, who were kidnapped from the Iraqi finance ministry in Baghdad in May 2007, broke ranks with the Foreign Office in a bid to push the plight of their loved ones to “the top of the political agenda”.
It is thought that the group holding Peter Moore, a computer expert, and his four bodyguards, who are known only by their first names – Jason, Alan, Jason and Alec – asked for news of their capture to be kept quiet.
However, the kidnappers, who are seeking the release of Iraqi prisoners held by US forces in Iraq and have demanded the withdrawal of British troops, seemed to break their own news embargo when they released two videos of the men appealing for help from the British Government. Campaigners have pointed to the success of a high-profile campaign to free the BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who was held in Gaza for four months last year.
British troops are due to leave Iraq next year, which might give some hope of a deal to secure the release of the men, but the fate of the prisoners held by the Americans remains unclear.
The kidnappers, who call themselves the Islamic Shiite Resistance in Iraq, have claimed one of the Britons has committed suicide, but this has not been confirmed. Amid the uncertainty, the families decided to speak out on BBC and Channel 4 news programmes as they faced a second Christmas without their loved ones.
Roseleen, the wife of Alan, said: “My son is three so he has not seen his dad since just before his second birthday.
He is now three-and-a-half and he has told people his daddy is coming home for Christmas, so that is quite sad.”
The mother-of-two said she hoped every day for her husband’s safe return. “It is very difficult but I just need to think of Alan coming home.
I visualise him coming off the plane to meet me quite often,” she added. “I cannot wait for him to come home and see us and I just get through every day hoping that maybe at some point I will get the phone call from him to say he’s on his way, so we just need to do the bestwe can.”
She said she had been able to discuss the situation with her daughter in simple terms, but struggled with her young son because he does not understand why his father cannot come home. Alan’s sister-in-law, Caroline, said the families were constantly trying to make sure their plight is “top of the political agenda”. “Clearly there is always more that could be done I think. We are pushing on every channel we can and knocking on as many doors as we can to make sure that this is top of the political agenda,” she said.
“But really this message is about the humanitarian impact on the families and really to try to get a message to the men themselves at Christmas.”
Jan, a friend of another of the hostages, Jason, said the men “certainly haven’t been forgotten”. “For Jason, just to let him know his daughter, his girlfriend, his family miss him and all love him dearly. But also… for them to stay strong wherever they are and the difficult situation they find themselves in,” she added.
Their decision to speak out was the latest sign of discontentment with the low-key policy adopted by the Foreign Office. Friends of Mr Moore, from Lincoln, who was working for a US management consultancy, Bearingpoint, to pay off a student loan after working for Voluntary Service Overseas, have set up a website at www.4pete.org .
And the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has also made a direct video appeal to the kidnappers.
TheForeign Office refused to comment.