Former hostage and Times writer on plight of Kent kidnap victims

PUBLISHED: 09:59 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 17:19 25 August 2010

I FELT a chill run down my spine and all those painful memories came flooding back when I heard pirates were holding a British couple.

I FELT a chill run down my spine and all those painful memories came flooding back when I heard pirates were holding a British couple."

This was the first thought of Times correspondent Tom Hart Dyke, 32, when he heard about the kidnapping of Paul and Rachel Chandler by ruthless Somali pirates.

Horticulturalist Tom was held captive in Colombia for nine months along with his travel companion, Paul Winder, in 2000.

The duo were snatched at gunpoint as they ignored official advice and travelled to the notorious Darien Gap region in search of rare Orchids.

They were taken by suspected Marxist guerrillas and held captive for nine months in a South American rainforest.

Paul, 59 and Rachel Chandler, 55 of Tunbridge Wells were taken hostage by gunmen as they sailed their yacht in the Indian Ocean last month.

Mr Hart Dyke said: "When I heard what had happened to them it sent a chill down my spine but I'm sure they will be OK, people learn how to survive.

"It's really scary when you are grabbed by gunmen but is surprising how soon you settle down.

"You just want to survive and I suppose this causes you to develop a good relationship with your captors.

"I am sure they will be fine and released before long, the pirates will be aware that they or their family don't have much money."

Mr Hart Dyke who writes the Green Man column said that the Chandlers' predicament will be made easier because they are together.

He also said they would be more worried about the anguish their capture would cause their loved ones at home in Kent.

"I had only just met Paul, who was on a mountaineering expedition in South America, but his companionship was essential," he said.

"When there are two of you there the chances are that one person will keep the other focused on survival and in good spirits.

"Even though you are just concerned about getting home you do think about how your loved ones are coping and hope that they are alright."

A ransom demand of £4.3 million has been made but the Government maintain they will not be bullied into paying any demands.

Despite his own experience Mr Hart Dyke supports this stance and says that paying off pirates would cause a surge in the practice.

"Paul and I were somewhere where we shouldn't have been and we wouldn't have expected the ransom to be paid," he said.

"Although the Chandlers were innocent tourists and 400 miles away from the volatile Somali the Government can't be bullied, if they pay there will be a greater incentive to practice piracy."

During his time in captivity he sketched plans for a World Garden at his family's home Lullingstone Castle. When he was eventually freed he set about realising his dream with the official opening in January 2004.

A book 'The Cloud Garden' which details his and Paul Winder's experience is available from Waterstones for £7.99.

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