Peter Shaw was 57 when he was brutally kidnapped by a pseudo-military organisation in Georgia and chained by his neck to a wall, kept in pitch dark except for eked-out candles, bitten by flies, worried by slugs and rats, and starved of human contact
Image: Mark Lewis)
A British banker has spoken about his kidnapping horror being held in a filthy cell for months over a $2m ransom.
Peter Shaw was 57 when he was brutally kidnapped by a pseudo-military organisation in Georgia and chained by his neck to a wall, kept in pitch dark except for eked-out candles, bitten by flies, worried by slugs and rats, and starved of human contact except for the twice-daily delivery of food.
Now 77, he is worlds away from his ordeal in the stone cottage in Cowbridge where he’s lived since before his time in Georgia when he was manager of the Midland Bank in the Vale of Glamorgan town.
His wife Mair is making tea in the small kitchen and Peter sits surrounded by hundreds of thickly-bound biographies stacked on shelves which cover nearly every available wall space. He’s an avid reader, he says. Look closely enough and you might spot Peter’s own biography – a story about how the forces of international finance, politics, and greed collided and caught in their midst a man just going about his normal life in a foreign country.
He wrote the book telling the astonishing story of how he, a mere banker from Maesteg, survived being kidnapped while heading up a new European Commission-sponsored agro-business bank in the summer of 2002, reports Wales Online.
Peter was just two days from flying home to south Wales with his then-Georgian girlfriend Diana Khorina and Danny, their three-year-old son, when he was dragged off the streets of Tbilisi in broad daylight on June 18. The motive was basically mercenary: the ransom was $2m (€1.54m) while the bank’s entire reserve was $5m (€3.86m).
On the day his nightmare began he was supposed to be heading for drinks to say farewell to his Georgian team who he’d worked with for nearly six years setting up the new bank. Instead he caught sight of a policeman with a whistle to his mouth.
“What’s the problem officer?” Peter asked. “You are the f****** problem!” was the reply shouted back in heavily-accented English and accompanied by a punch in the face. Next thing he knew Peter was being dragged out of his Skoda by men wearing black masks and military uniform and brandishing Kalashnikovs and hauled into a minibus which had screeched to a halt behind him.
There’s no self-pity in Peter’s written account and there’s not the slightest trace of self pity 20 years later. His whole face scrunches into a smile when he talks about his ordeal, which lasted 141 days in total, his eyes crinkling at the edges. He’d rather not talk about it at all, he says, not because it brings back terrible nightmares but because it’s old news and dull news at that.
Does he really think that though? Can he understand the incredulity from people when they come across his story for the first time? And does he really not have any flashbacks or PTSD at all?
He is the first to bring up that some people don’t believe his story full stop, that he’s made it all up and it never happened.
It’s certainly true there were some sceptics at the time who didn’t think his story quite added up. His face is quite hard to read but there’s a trace of hurt at such a suggestion.
“It’s history now, it all happened a long time ago,” he said about his reluctance to drag the details back up. “I have the occasional nightmare and the things that go with a nasty experience. I still have people stopping me in the street asking me how I overcame my ordeal which is very nice of them.”
Nice is quite the understatement. Peter talks much like he writes: nonplussed by his own experience, a wry sense of humour and certainly no suggestion that he’s some kind of hero. Perhaps it’s because he’s such an enigma, describing his time of solitary confinement in a Georgian hellhole with very little emotion, that makes people doubt his story. It’s hard to understand why he doesn’t seem in the slightest bit perturbed.
So how do you survive such an ordeal, I ask, in a desperate bid to get him to say something. Peter has a psychologist friend who wrote the foreword to his book.
“I remember her asking me: ‘How do you think you managed to get through this experience?’,” Peter explained only half-reluctantly. “I said: ‘I don’t know – maybe I’m just a stubborn old bugger’. But she said it wasn’t stubbornness – stubborn people are failures, they get stuck in a corner and cant get out of it.
“She told me ‘stubborn’ is quite a negative thing while ‘determined’ is more positive. I suppose I was able to think quite positive and stay that way.”
He follows that up with a nonchalant rub of his head and says: “I still have the dent in my head where they knocked me about.” It’s another understated way for Peter to mention how they fractured his skull during his many beatings.
After being captured Peter was taken out of the minibus and given a hood to wear over his head before being handcuffed and frog-marched to a woodland clearing. Then they set off up the mountainside. Peter’s captors were listening to the news on their radio where he heard his name, Peter Shaw, director of the Agro-business Bank of Georgia, as having been kidnapped.
A senior bank employee received a note demanding $2m (£1.1m) for Peter’s release. His captors were excited but Peter knew a ransom of that size wouldn’t be paid. They were warriors, not bandits, they told Peter. The money was needed for arms for their business. They were professionals who had fought in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Sarajevo.
Days later, with the ransom still unpaid, Peter was marched back down the mountains and kept in some wooden sheds. A failed escape attempt resulted in Peter being beaten senseless. A couple of days later he was moved to a mountain forest where they spent another week.
Finally he was pushed towards an opening in the ground and forced to descend into the small cellar, about 6ft 6in by 4ft 10in, that would be his home for the next 119 days. The walls were covered in slime and cobwebs. The “bed” almost filled the space and consisted of plastic sheeting filled with straw over a timber frame, Peter recalled.
He was left alone with a chain around his neck which was secured to the wall with a large padlock. A bucket with a metal lid was his toilet. As Peter’s eyes adjusted to the gloom the ladder was removed and the wooden trap door was closed and locked.
His first meal was dropped through a hole: soup, bread, an apple, and a plastic spoon. Peter hungrily devoured his food as he took in the ceiling made of concrete slabs, steadily dripping foul-smelling water mixed with excrement from the chickens above. An army of slugs was moving along the walls. The place smelled of rotting flesh.
As the hours turned into days Peter realised he was there for the long haul. His beard was long, dirty, and matted, as was his hair. Whatever remained of his trousers and shirt were caked in filth.
There were some dark times, Peter admitted, but then his customary smile flashed back as he described how he decided to “stay alive and to see what happened”. He describes in great detail in his book how he got himself organised as a means of filling the time.
It sounds bizarre from the comfort of his homely cottage to hear how his focus became his daily “housework”. The first chore was to collect the slugs from the wall and bugs from his bedding and throw them through the hole in the wall.
This was followed by re-stuffing his mattress with the straw that escaped during sleep. He made himself search conscientiously in the darkness for every piece.
You can read more about how he coped here.