As he sat tied up and hooded in the darkness of a lorry driven by his Russian captors, John Harding sensed his life was about to end. The former engineer had been in transit for 20 hours – one of five British hostages taped together in the back of an old truck.
Suddenly someone realised they must have crossed Ukraine’s eastern border into Russia. It was then Mr Harding’s pulse quickened and he feared the worst.
Were they being taken from the war zone to be executed with their corpses buried in the soil of ‘Mother Russia’ never to be uncovered? he asked himself.
The 59-year-old, from Sunderland, even pictured in his mind’s eye the stump he would be tied to and the sound of the executioner’s rifle clicking. It would be a tragic end to his four months detained on the orders of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, he thought, during which time he had been tortured and beaten while interrogated.
His sadistic captors had used cattle prods to jab prisoners and adapted an old…