A British aid worker held by the Taliban for five months has shed light on his horror ordeal – revealing he walked up to 12 miles a day in his cell to stay sane.

Ex-paratrooper Ian Purchase, 50, was arrested in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul in May on suspicion of breaking local laws.

He says he was then chucked in solitary confinement until his release in October, where he was “beaten and whipped”.

But Ian says the mental anguish was tougher – not knowing what the next hour, let alone day, would hold.

He says he desperately clung to a routine to preserve his mental health and, despite being agnostic, prayed to God.

He constantly paced his 18ft by 14ft cell, often walking up to 28,000 steps in a day – the equivalent of 12 miles.

The dad-of-two, who served in 3 Para from 1995 to 2001, is now safely back home and is coming to terms with what happened to him.

Ian said: “I was kept in solitary. I was beaten and whipped in the first five days of being there.

“But the worst of the pain is the mental side – not knowing why you’re there or if you’ll ever get out. It was hard to tell day from night.

“I’m agnostic but part of my routine was desperate heartfelt praying. I wrote the names of my children, my mum and ex wife on the wall.

“I’d put my fingers on their names and beg God for a sign that they were okay and that I’d get back to them.

“I really believed it to the highest degree. I used all my mind and force to get through.

“Exercise was very important in my routine too. My cell was 30 paces around – about 14 foot by 18 foot.

“I walked up to 28,000 steps per day. That was my target – I never went below 15,000 [steps].

“Walking around in a circle like that has done my hips in but it was necessary.

“Walking helped me stay in the zone to stop the bad thoughts coming in. I knew I just had to have only positive thoughts in my mind to get through.

“I used to drift off into another world to keep the bad thoughts out. As soon as I’d start to see a nasty thought I’d have to shut down on it.

“Any negative feelings – even being hungry.”

Ian, from Salisbury, Wilts., says he was in Afghanistan to set up humanitarian aid for widows and orphans.

He entered the war-torn nation via a train from Uzbekistan in September 2021 because so many routes into the country were closed after the Taliban took control.

Ian says he was then contacted by friends and relatives of someone in Taliban captivity asking if he could help, in March 2023.

He arranged a meeting with a contact and, two months later, on May 6, hopped in a taxi to buy some chocolates to take.

He asked the driver to show him the location of the meeting location.

But he says the cabbie went closer than intended – and Ian was arrested on the spot.

He said: “They just asked for our documents, which I gave them, then they made a phone call and that was it.

“I was hit over the head, handcuffed and taken to this facility, that’s where I stayed.

“My ID had always been good enough before.

“I was held in the old national defence building in the centre of Kabul.”

Ian was eventually released along with three other Brits – medic Kevin Cornwell, ‘adventure tourist’ Miles Routledge and a man who cannot be named for legal reasons.

But his prison term was spent alone, he says.

He says he was fed twice a day, often by guards who didn’t speak the same languages as him.

He had to beg for showers and wasn’t given one for the first month – or a change of clothes, he said.

He was given some old history books which he read over and over using lights which were on 24 hours a day.

And there were only very small windows in the back of the cell.

After three months he was allowed to call his mum, and again six weeks later, each time for three minutes.

He said: “It’s so difficult – you have no warning so you have no plan of what to say. They just came in one day and let me call her.

“I just kept asking if my kids were okay, if anyone was helping try to get me out, if she knew what was happening.

“I’d just keep repeating that I loved her, and my kids, just over and over. I knew how worried they all were about me.”

Ian and the three other men were eventually returned to the UK on October 10

The Foreign Office apologised to the current Taliban administration on behalf of their families for any violations in the laws of Afghanistan.

But Ian said: “We still don’t know the terms of our release. On October 7th the commander came and said ‘You’re being released on the 10th’.

“I had no idea if it was true. They moved me into the same room as Kevin and the other man.

“We just waited and worried. We had no computers phones or passports – we lost the lot.

“Finally we were put on a flight to Dubai and then on to the UK. Nothing beats seeing my family again. It was such a relief.

“At the same time it’s very hard. There’s a lot to recover from, and I can’t go back to the life I had before.

“I have no money, nothing. All my stuff is all still there and I can’t go back again.

“I was arrested there once before but released after six weeks – it wasn’t like this.

“And it was a real mission to get into the country. I used a lot of my old Afghan contacts who are connected to the Taliban.

“I wouldn’t be able to do that now.”

Despite his ordeal Ian says he harbours no ill will towards Afghans, or Afghanistan as a country.

He said: “I would love for people to be able to go there for holiday. It’s a beautiful country.

“It’s stunning and I’m privileged and lucky to have been able to go there and have driven all over it.

“But it’s just not safe at the moment.

“It’s just not the right time – if you don’t have the right documents at a checkpoint anything can happen.

“And if nothing else, who’s going to insure those holidays?”

Ian was reunited in the UK with his teenage children, his mum and his ex-wife.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson said previously the UK government “regrets this episode”.

A statement reported by the Guardian said: “On behalf of families of the British nationals, we express their apologies to the current administration of Afghanistan for any violations of the laws of the country.”

Scott Richards, a co-founder of the Presidium Network, a British not-for-profit organisation that works in conflict zones assisted the men, posted on X after the release.

He said: “Mr Cornwell and the three other British Nationals which includes Miles Routledge have been released and have left Afghanistan. They are coming home!

“Thank you to everyone for their support of these men during this difficult period. We are all relieved.”


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