The return of Norman Kember: A bitter homecoming

Freed hostage Norman Kember riled the Army on his return yesterday by continuing to oppose the war

The former hostage Norman Kember arrived at his semi-detached home in north-west London yesterday afternoon, smiling and waving to neighbours and well-wishers, and walked straight into a bitter row with the head of the Army.

Mr Kember, 74, had flown into Heathrow at 12.20pm, to be greeted with hugs and tears from his wife Pat and one of his daughters, some 48 hours after being released from captivity after an SAS-led raid.

But the family's joy and relief at his return after 118 days was overshadowed by a controversy sparked by his seeming refusal personally to thank the special forces troops who had rescued him.

Twenty-four hours after General Sir Mike Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, criticised Mr Kember for apparently not thanking his rescuers, the British peace campaigner gave a press conference at Heathrow. Mr Kember refused to answer questions, reading from a prepared statement.

With his wife sitting beside him, their hands tightly clasped, he said: "I do not believe a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release." And, he added, he had thanked British embassy staff who had worked "so diligently" for his release. He then paid tribute to the "relatives of British soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq".

He said: "In reality it was my wife who was kidnapped last November. She suffered more than I because while I knew that I was alive and well, she did not."

He was responding to claims by General Jackson that he had been churlish when he met his rescuers in Baghdad. Other official sources said Mr Kember refused to help military intelligence officers with information about his captors. The general said: "I'm slightly saddened that there doesn't seem to be a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives."

Mr Kember, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden were released in a British-led operation involving 50 members of Task Force Black, which specialises in finding kidnap victims and alleged Iraqi war criminals.

General Jackson's remarks provoked an angry response from Mr Kember's colleagues in the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). They pointed to a statement issued on Friday morning in which the organisation expressed "great gratitude" to his rescuers.

Peggy Gish, one of the CPT's members in Baghdad, said last night she was "dismayed" by the accusations. "Norman was overwhelmed and he had a hard time even discussing the kidnapping with us, so my guess is that it was just a matter of not being able to express himself very well," she said. "I would be surprised if he didn't feel gratitude."

After Mr Kember's statement, the pair were driven home to Pinner, where close friends and family had gathered to welcome the 74-year-old grandfather.

The row has exposed an unbridgeable gulf between the peace campaigners who want Western forces out of Iraq and the military. The CPT arrived in Baghdad in October 2002 with the motto "Getting in the Way". It was the first Western group to publicise the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, promotes close ties with Muslim leaders, and refuses to use bodyguards in Iraq.

It has also said it would not welcome any armed attempts to rescue its members. Jan Benvie, 51, a Scottish schoolteacher on standby to travel to Iraq for the CPT, said she and Mr Kember had signed "statement of conviction" documents asking not to be rescued by military force. "I don't want my life to be bought with the price of somebody else's life," she said yesterday.

It emerged last night Mr Kember and the other hostages had been promised by their kidnappers in mid-February that they were about to released, only for Tom Fox to be murdered by his captors. Ms Gish, from Ohio, said that on 12 February, Mr Fox was taken away and Mr Kember believed he too would be released the next day.

"They said 'we're going to take you off, one by one and release you individually each on a separate day'," she said. "Tom was the first, but they never came back for the others, so they didn't know what had happened." The other captives first suspected that Mr Fox had been killed when they glimpsed his face on television in a neighbouring room.

His body was found, on 9 March, with several bullet wounds to his chest and another in his right temple - suggesting he had been executed. The three remaining captives were told of his death when they were debriefed by officials at the British embassy on Thursday.

The revelation ties in with theories that Mr Fox may have been killed in a dispute between different kidnappers, who may have disagreed about the plan to release them. Canadian sources suggested yesterday there had been several abortive rescue plans.

It also emerged yesterday that the kidnappers holding them hostage had left the building "right before the intervention" - raising suspicions they were tipped off or had expected the SAS-led raid.

Deserted suddenly by their captors and left sitting bound and blindfolded in a bare, dusty room, he and his two surviving friends were rescued in a two-minute-long raid. They may have heard the heavily armed helicopter gunships circling overhead. Their ears would have pricked up as the unmarked cars and fake taxis carrying their SAS rescuers pulled up outside. Within seconds, the "door came crashing down" as the rescuers broke in.

As the three pacifists - exhausted, undernourished and dehydrated - adjusted to their freedom this weekend, the first details emerged about their captivity at the hands of the previously unknown Swords of the Righteousness Brigade. They seem to have been well-treated. They were often unshackled, and were given a cake at Christmas, along with journals and fresh clothing. The group passed the time by trying to keep fit and told their CPT colleagues of "periodic separations and reunions".

Additional reporting by Robert Fox, Martin Hodgson and Fred Attewill

THIS IS AN EDITED VERSION OF NORMAN KEMBER'S STATEMENT TO THE PRESS

There is a real sense in which you are interviewing the wrong person. It is the ordinary people of Iraq that you should be talking to - the people who have suffered so much over many years and still await the stable and just society that they deserve.

Another group that I hope you do not forget are the relatives of British soldiers killed or wounded in Iraq. I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release.

I am not ready to talk about my captivity except to say that I am delighted to be free and reunited with my family. I thank all who supported Pat.

I now need to reflect on my experience - was I foolhardy or rational? - and also to enjoy freedom in peace and quiet.

Thank you.

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
Environment
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Calling all science teachers! Ra...

Technology Teacher - Food & Textiles

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Food Tech/Textiles Teacher We ...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Humanities Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities, Religious Education ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone