'He was a bit silly to go to Iraq but he felt he had to do something'

Helen McCormack
Friday 24 March 2006 01:59
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The silence lasted for 118 days. Pat Kember's wait was punctuated only by the latest release of grainy videotape footage of her husband, shackled and blindfolded, the only indication that he was alive.

But despite being in what friends described as "agony", Mrs Kember worked continuously for her husband's release, appearing regularly on the Arabic news channel to explain patiently to audiences that Mr Kember was a pacifist, and that his intention in travelling to Iraq was wholly humanitarian.

Last night, Mrs Kember finally spoke to her husband, who reassured her that he was safe and well. He had been given a hot drink of Horlicks, he said, and was about to retire for the night.

"It's wonderful news. I was getting pessimistic. I was beginning to feel nothing was happening and I was getting worried," she admitted from her home in Pinner, north-west London.

"I have spoken to Norman and he is very, very pleased to be free. He was very emotional in talking to me. I think he must have been very worried about me and the family and he was pleased to be able to talk to me. He has been concerned about his two daughters and grandson and are we all right, how are we feeling. He was concerned about us."

If any frustration was felt towards the decision of her husband, a retired academic, to travel to Iraq, it was expressed with indulgence. "I thought when he wanted to go to Iraq he was a bit silly but on the other hand I knew he felt he must do something and he is getting old.

"He felt if he doesn't do something specific it would be too late. But I thought he might be blown up by a bomb, I did not really expect him to be taken hostage."

It was little more than a week after Mr Kember disappeared from Baghdad on 26 November when Mrs Kember made her first appeal to Arab television audiences and explained: "Throughout his life he bravely fought against all kinds of injustice."

His captors, the Swords of Truth Brigade, had set an ultimatum to the coalition forces: release all Iraqi prisoners by 8 December, or they would kill all four men. But the deadline came and went with no event.

By the time Mrs Kember made her next televised appeal in early January, it had been almost a month since his captors had released any footage. Concerns intensified when a fifth video was released on 7 March. Missing was the American hostage, Tom Fox. Three days later he was discovered dead.

"The support I have had from everybody has been so wonderful. In England every church and denomination has been having vigils of prayer," she said yesterday in an interview with the New Zealand radio station National Radio Live.

She paid tribute to the Muslim Council of Britain, which had called for her husband's release. "It has been a great bridge-building time," she said.

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