Families of beheaded hostages to sue employers for negligence

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The Independent Online

The families of the four telecommunication engineers kidnapped and murdered last year in Chechnya are to launch civil actions against their employers, claiming they failed in their duty to protect the men.

The families of the four telecommunication engineers kidnapped and murdered last year in Chechnya are to launch civil actions against their employers, claiming they failed in their duty to protect the men.

The announcement followed an inquest, which heard that the men were starved and beaten before being decapitated. Their severed heads were found on a roadside east of the Chechen capital Grozny.

The Westminster Coroner, Dr Paul Knapman, ruled yesterday that all the men had been unlawfully killed. After the inquest Andrew Irvine, the solicitor for the three employed by Granger Telecom - Rudolf Petschi, 42, from Devon, New Zealand-born Stanley Shaw, 58, from Addlestone, Surrey and Darren Hickey, 26, from Thames Ditton, Surrey - said a civil claim was almost certain.

The family of Peter Kennedy, 46, from Orpington, Kent, who was sub-contracted by British Telecom after the company decided it was too dangerous to send its own staff to Chechnya, are expected to do the same.

"The action will argue the employers were negligent in the proper care of their staff," said Mr Irvine.

It is understood the families will claim the men could have been rescued if Granger had heeded the request of their kidnapped staff about the way a £4m ransom to the hostage-takers be handled. They will also argue that the companies did not do enough to ensure their initial security in Chechnya, where two British aid workers had been kidnapped the previous year.

The men were taken hostage in October last year while working on a five-year £190m project to install telecoms equipment. Granger, based in Weybridge, Surrey, had been warned by the Foreign Office that its official advice was against travelling to Chechnya, although officials later wrote to the company asking that the men, "since they were going", would report back on the republic's "movers and shakers".

The men were seized in the early hours of 3 October from a house in Grozny while under the protection of armed guards provided by Chechen Telecom, with which Granger had the contract. On 8 December their heads were found. Their bodies were found later.

Post-mortems carried out by Home Office pathologist Dr Iain West found that all men had been killed by cuts to the throats made from behind before decapitation. Dr West said the men had suffered blows to the head prior to their throats being cut and that all may have been unconscious.

The inquest heard that between their kidnapping and the discovery of the bodies, five telephone calls had been made to Granger by the four men on behalf of their Chechen-speaking kidnappers. Robert Jarvis, Granger's financial director, spoke to the men during each of the calls.

Mr Jarvis heard that while Mr Petschi and Mr Kennedy had "taken some stick" from their kidnappers, they were bearing up. The other two men appeared to be all right but were "tired" and "depressed".

Mr Jarvis said the company - which took advice from security specialists Control Risks - was optimistic the men would be returned safely. "The tone of the dialogue was one where the other party was talking in a very positive sense about releasing our people," he said.

The coroner ruled yesterday that evidence about the content of the ransom negotiations was not admissible. However, The Independent understands that the company was close to paying £4m to the kidnappers, who wanted to release the men two at a time.

Detective Chief Superintendent Michael Dixon of the Metropolitan Police, who investigated the deaths for the coroner, said despite a wealth of theories it was impossible to say for certain why the men had been killed.

Earlier this year, inquiries by The Independent suggested they were kidnapped on the orders of a senior Chechen government official involved with a rival telecoms company.

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