Captives 'thought throats were being cut'

THE Iranian soldiers had changed out of military uniforms and were now dressed all in black, their faces masked. For the 14 male hostages, the worst moment of their ordeal had arrived. The belief that they were being taken to the British Embassy in Tehran for imminent release had evaporated. Instead, at a detention centre, blindfolded and with their hands secured with plastic cuffs, they were all made to face a brick wall.

Then guns were cocked and a British captive cried out: "Lads, lads. I think we are going to be executed." At that point, one of the hostages vomited: at least one of the others thought someone had just had their throat cut, and that it was blood hitting the floor.

The full extent of the psychological pressure the 15 British personnel were put under by their Iranian captors was revealed yesterday at a press conference at the Royal Marines' base at Chivenor, Devon.

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Joe Tindell, 21, a Royal Marine from London, said: "On day two, the mood completely changed. They changed from the military dress to all black, their faces covered. We thought we were going to the British Embassy but we got taken to a detention centre, all 15 of us. We had a blindfold and plastic cuffs, hands behind our backs, heads against the wall.

"Basically there were weapons cocking. Someone - I'm not sure who - someone said, I quote, 'Lads, lads. I think we're going to get executed'. After that comment, someone was sick and as far as I was concerned he had just had his throat cut. From there, we were rushed to a room, quick photo, and then stuffed into a cell and didn't see or speak to anyone for six days."

Yesterday, sitting under a giant Union flag in the base's gym hall, the marines and Royal Navy sailors said they had been under "constant psychological pressure" and threatened with seven years in prison if they did not admit they had strayed into Iranian waters.

In a written statement, read by Lieutenant Felix Carman, 26, and Royal Marine Captain Chris Air, 25, the group defended their conduct while in captivity and said they had not apologised for being in Iranian waters - in fact, they had been 1.7 nautical miles from Iranian waters.

In a direct rebuttal of criticisms that they had not fought back against the Iranian forces, Capt Airs said: "From the outset, it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option. Had we chosen to do so, then many of us would not be standing here today. Of that I have no doubts."

The group said Leading Seaman Faye Turney, who appeared in several Iranian videos and wrote letters for the authorities, had been detained separately and been told that everyone else had been sent home.

The crew's ordeal began on Friday, March 23, while they were on a routine operation. They had boarded a merchant vessel south of the Shatt al-Arab waterway when two speedboats were spotted approaching rapidly from about 400 metres away.

Capt Air said: "I ordered everyone to make their weapons ready and ordered the boarding party to return to the boats. By the time all were back on board, two Iranian boats had come alongside. One officer spoke good English and I explained that we were conducting a routine operation, as allowed under a UN mandate. But when we tried to leave, they prevented us by blocking us in.

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"Some of the Iranian sailors were becoming deliberately aggressive and unstable. They rammed our boat and trained their heavy machineguns, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and weapons on us. Another six boats were closing in on us. We realised that our efforts to reason with these people were not making any headway."

Lt Carman told how they were taken into custody, stripped of their kit and blindfolded. On that first night, they were subjected to random questioning.

The next day, they were flown to Tehran and taken to a prison where they were kept in isolation in 8ft by 6ft stone cells and interrogated most nights. It was only in the last few nights that they were allowed to gather together for a few hours, in the full glare of the Iranian media.

Lt Carman added: "On day 12, we were taken to a governmental complex, blindfolded and then given three-piece suits to wear. We watched the president's statement live on TV, and it was only then we realised we were to be sent home. We were made to line up to meet the president, one at a time. My advice to everyone was not to mess this up now - we all wanted to get home."