Analysis: Deals can make the criminals want more

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Kidnap and ransom scenarios are extremely high-risk and rarely straightforward. There is no guarantee that paying a ransom will lead to a safe hostage release. As the Chandler family reportedly learned, it can spawn more demands for cash, a practice known as "double-dipping". Gut-wrenching as that blow must have been, the Chandlers were lucky. Some kidnappers take the money and kill.

I can't fault any family for doing everything in their power to free their loved ones. But ransom payments do make the world a more dangerous place. Caving in to hostage-takers encourages them to keep kidnapping and tempts more criminals to the trade. That is why I agree with our government's policy of not making or facilitating substantive concessions to hostage-takers. Britain wants to shut down kidnappers, not reward them.

In practice though, this stance has made little difference. Britain's efforts have been frustrated enormously by countries that do pay for the release of their citizens. In Afghanistan, some countries involved in Nato's coalition have been happy to pay ransoms for the return of their nationals. Kidnapping is now not only a political act in Afghanistan; it is a booming, for-profit enterprise involving the Taleban and gangs of criminals.

The Westminster government cannot stop private citizens and firms from digging into their pockets to meet kidnappers' demands.

Ideally, families and employers of British kidnap victims should work hand-in-hand with the government, which has many weapons in its arsenal not available to the private sector such as diplomatic pressure and the most powerful - the military option.

• Bob Shepherd is an author and security adviser.

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