Government blamed for aid worker’s death

The family of murdered aid worker Margaret Hassan has blamed the British government for her death at the hands of Iraqi kidnappers.

In a statement ahead of the opening of the trial of three men for her murder in Baghdad today, Mrs Hassan’s brothers and sisters said the government’s refusal to negotiate with the kidnappers cost the 59-year-old her life.

“We believe that the refusal by the British government to open a dialogue with the kidnappers cost our sister her life,” they said.

Mrs Hassan, head of the aid organisation Care in Iraq, was married to an Iraqi man and had been living in the country for more than 30 years when she was abducted on October 19th 2004.

A month after being taken, her kidnappers said Mrs Hassan, who held British, Irish and Iraqi citizenship, was dead, although her body has never been found.

“We believe the time has come for the British and Irish people to know the truth of what happened to our sister,” said the statement signed by Deirdre, Geraldine, Kathryn and Michael Fitzsimons.

“During the period of her captivity, four calls were made from the kidnappers to her husband, Tahseen, in Baghdad. These calls were made from Margaret’s mobile phone.”

“The hostage-takers demanded to speak to a member of the British embassy, but Tahseen had been told by the British that they would not speak to the kidnappers.

“Margaret, who was vocally opposed to the war in Iraq, was sacrificed for the political ends of Tony Blair and George Bush.”

A spokesman for the Foreign Office confirmed that Mrs Hassan’s husband had received a call from someone claiming to be her kidnapper, but said officials had been unable to verify these claims.

“Our strategy was one of ‘personalisation and localisation’, minimising the links between Mrs Hassan and the UK,” he said – an approach which required playing up her aid work and minimising any links she might have had with the government.

“We understand her family having criticisms of the government approach and we remain in regular contact with them.”

The family said they had petitioned the government to arrange for the three men on trial today, who were arrested by US troops last May, to be interviewed by British military police.

But they said: “They have refused this request, even though this is the only way Margaret’s remains will be found and we can bring her home to be buried with the dignity she deserves.”