'SAS' Briton feared being shot on atoll

Pacific nuclear tests: Greenpeace activists recall ordeal after they were caught by French forces paratroopers

A Greenpeace activist captured by French paratroops on Mururoa atoll said yesterday he feared he was going to be shot when he was trussed up, pistol-whipped and had a gun held to his head.

''At that stage I stopped pretending I couldn't speak French,'' said Matthew Whitting, a former French foreign legionnaire who had served on the islet during previous nuclear tests. ''I began pleading for my life.''

Mr Whitting and Alan Baker told a press conference in London how they were held by the Gendarmerie and the French Foreign Legion for a week in Mururoa and Tahiti before being deported. They had sailed 30 miles to the atoll in an inflatable craft, towing two kayaks, having been dropped by the Greenpeace-chartered yacht La Ribaude, which has since been captured by the French authorities after sailing into the exclusion zone.

They arrived on 3 September, two days before the first underground nuclear explosion in France's latest series of tests. After resting in an uninhabited part of the atoll, Mr Baker paddled his kayak across the lagoon at night while Mr Whitting walked and swam towards the occupied zone.

He said he placed several protest stickers on buildings and a telephone box outside the police station before being seized by paratroopers. The pistol-whipping left him with a cut on his elbow and a fractured knee cap. He said the soldiers talked about killing him.

''I completely believed I was going to die,'' said Mr Whitting, who has served a jail sentence in Britain for armed robbery. ''I began speaking the best French of my life, and they calmed down.''

He was handed over to gendarmes and received medical treatment. Mr Baker, a bricklayer, gave himself up. Both were lying in separate cells when the bomb exploded.

''It was my first action with Greenpeace and it won't be my last,'' said Mr Whitting, who had the SAS's "Who Dares Wins" motto and shield tattooed on his shoulder during his four years with the French Foreign Legion: ''I did it to bury part of my past.''

Back in French Polynesia, independence leaders have lodged a complaint with Amnesty International over France's treatment of Polynesian trade union officials charged with inciting riots in Tahiti last week. The Tavini Huiraatira, or Polynesian Liberation Front, led by Oscar Temaru, has charged the French administration with abusing the human rights of 15 leading officials from Atia Mua, a large blue collar union, arrested on Saturday. Eight are being held while the others have been released pending a court hearing.

Nelson Ortas, Mayor of Faa'a, an industrial district of Papeete, said police forced the trade unionists to kneel for two hours in handcuffs, their faces touching the car-park tarmac of the Papeete police centre. He said that the officials had heard screaming from another section of the prison, and had seen policemen carrying electric-shock devices.

Tahiti Diary, page 15

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
News
americasVideo message warns Sean Paul to stay away from Maldives New Year's Eve concert
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect