Freed hostages tell of traumatic pirate kidnap

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Freed hostages Paul and Rachel Chandler today described their "traumatic" kidnap ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates as the Government denied aid money was used to secure their release.

The Chandlers, freed yesterday following more than a year in captivity, revealed they were beaten by their captors after refusing to be separated.

The retired couple from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, are poised to return to the UK after a ransom was reportedly paid to secure their release.

Reports suggested the money came from a mixture of private investors and the Somali government.

The Government moved to quash reports that part of the release money had come out of British aid paid to the African country's government.

A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development (DfID) said: "No part of the UK aid budget has been used to help secure the Chandlers' release, nor to benefit pirates.

"The British Government does not pay ransoms to hostage takers."

In 2009/10 DfID gave more than £30 million to Somalia which was was used for humanitarian relief, education and health programmes.

The Chandler family released a statement acknowledging the "inevitable questions" that would arise following the release.

News of the couple's freedom following the 388-day ordeal prompted joyous scenes. Prime Minister David Cameron, who spoke to Mr Chandler today, declared their release "tremendous news".

The couple were snatched during a round-the-world sailing trip, when their 38-foot yacht, the Lynn Rival, was stormed by armed men.

The length of their incarceration meant Mr Chandler was unaware his father had died in July until being told on his release.

The 60-year-old said: "We're fine. We are rather skinny and bony but we're fine."

The couple were seen waving and holding hands as they finally left Somalia for Kenya, where they were taken to the British High Commission to prepare for a flight back to the UK.

"We were told on Friday (of our release) and in a way which gave us some confidence to believe it," Mr Chandler told the BBC.

"We'd been told we were going to be released in 10 days almost every 10 days for nine months."

He added: "It was hard to have any feelings really - almost disbelief. It was too good to be true."

The couple were handed over to local officials in the Somali town of Adado. They were then flown to the capital Mogadishu and on to Nairobi, Kenya.

The Chandlers today revealed details of their ordeal. Mr Chandler said: "The worst time was when we had to abandon our home and boat... in the ocean."

His wife, 56, added: "Abandoning (our yacht) Lynn Rival when we were taken on board the container ship and brought eventually on shore was the worst time.

"Another time that was very traumatic was when they decided to separate us. We were really distraught, we were very frightened at that point.

"We refused to be separated and we were beaten as a result. That was very traumatic."

The Mayor of Adado, Mohamed Aden, suggested the couple had been on the verge of release in June after a ransom payment of "somewhere like" 450,000 US dollars (around £280,000) had been paid but he said the pirates held out for more.

He told Sky News that a final payment of "somewhere like" 350,000 dollars (around £218,000) had been made which finally secured their release, down on an initial demand of 500,000 or 600,000 dollars.

But for friends and family there was only delight that the couple were finally heading home.

Jacqueline Charlton, a neighbour, said she was looking forward to their homecoming.

"It's been such a long time. They've been given a punishment worse than most criminals," she said.

Mr Cameron, speaking in the Commons, said: "I spoke to Paul Chandler this morning.

"It's hard to imagine what that family have been through and it's great that they are now safely in Kenya, soon to be flying home."

The couple's MP, Tory minister Greg Clark, said there was "great joy across Tunbridge Wells".

A DfID spokeswoman said none of the aid money given to Somalia goes through the country's government.

She explained: "We channel all our aid through UN agencies and well established and trusted charities.

"None of it goes through the Somali government."