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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

Kidnapped by pirates – mum’s six-month ordeal ends

“IT was very difficult.” This understatement is one of the few public utterances to punctuate the dignified silence Judith Tebbutt has largely kept since her release from Somali pirates was negotiated in March.

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FREEDOM: Judith Tebbutt, 57, pictured after being freed following more than six months in captivity in Adado, Somalia

That it was made while still in the custody of her kidnappers prior to her liberation raises doubts over its usefulness as a true indication of her experience during her six-plus months in captivity.

But the Ulverston-born social worker’s reluctance to speak expansively about her detention – outside of courtroom testimony – means the full effect of her experience might only ever be known by her family and friends.

What is known is that on September 11 last year Mrs Tebbutt was snatched at gunpoint during the night by Somali pirates from a secluded beach resort in the Kenyan town of Lamu.

Her husband of 26 years David, whose hand she had held hours earlier as they drifted off to sleep, was shot dead during the abduction after he woke to find intruders in their luxury hut.

She told a Kenyan court in June this year, during the trial of a hotel worker charged with her abduction, that she saw Mr Tebbutt grappling with a larger man.

“I got pulled out of bed and they were inside the mosquito net, because one man was on my right-hand side holding the tops of my arms very tightly and pulling me towards the door,” she said.

“I remember shouting ‘what’s happening, what’s happening’ and I could still see David and the next thing I knew I was out of the door.

“I screamed twice and on my second scream I was hit around my head. Not very hard or anything, it was a bit pathetic really. It was just like a little tap.”

The then 56-year-old mother-of-one was whisked away to a waiting boat to begin the first of about 190 days under the control of some of the most violent and unpredictable outlaws in the world.

Mrs Tebbutt, who was schooled at Victoria School – now Ulverston Victoria High School – has revealed little about her time in captivity.

It is understood she believed for several weeks that her husband too had been taken alive, only to then learn the terrible truth.

She is also believed to have been given medicine when she fell sick and said just before her release: “My condition is good, as far as I know. My health is good. I sleep very well here.”

Neither Mrs Tebbutt, who lives in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, nor her family, have ever disclosed details of the deal brokered by her son Oliver to secure her release.

“I am just happy to be released and I’m looking forward to seeing my son who successfully secured my release,” she said at the time. “I don’t know how he did it, but he did. Which is great.”

There is speculation that a ransom of between £600,000 and £800,000 was raised by family and friends and paid to the kidnappers.

News of her release was greeted with delight in her town of birth, with the Ulverston Parish Church holding a day of prayer and fasting in celebration.

The town’s traders held a collection and raised £823, which they presented to the family during an emotional handover in July.

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