Nigeria rescue bid was pair's 'best chance', says minister

The Nigerian kidnappers of a British man made direct contact with his family to threaten to kill him, the Defence Secretary disclosed yesterday while defending the failed operation to rescue Chris McManus and his Italian co-worker.

Philip Hammond told MPs that last week's controversial attempt to save Mr McManus, 28, of Oldham, and Franco Lamolinara, 48, was the "best chance" to get the pair out alive.

Mr Hammond said troops from Nigeria and Britain had little choice but to act swiftly after learning where the men were being held and their lives were in immediate danger.

"The military judgment was the hostages were facing an imminent and escalating threat and while an immediate rescue attempt would inevitably involve risk it represented the best chance of securing the release of Chris and Franco alive," Mr Hammond said.

In a Commons statement Mr Hammond said the Government's emergency committee Cobra met 33 times during the 10 months the men, who were seized while working for a construction company in Nigeria, were held by Islamist group Boko Haram.

The Defence Secretary said its demands had never been clear, but added: "During their captivity the kidnappers made threats through a video and by direct contact with Chris's family they were intending to kill Chris and Franco."

Last week's operation lasted 90 minutes and ended with the captives found shot dead. Britain has faced criticism from the Italian Prime Minister over its failure to alert his Government to the operation in advance.

But the Defence Secretary said there was an "accelerating closing of a time window which made it impossible to consult as fully as perhaps one would ideally have liked".