On 4 July 1995, six tourists were taken hostage in Kashmir. One
escaped and another was found decapitated the following month. The four
remaining - Keith Mangan, Paul Wells, Donald Hutchings and Kirk Hasert -
are still being held by a separatist group Al-Faran.
Initially, the Foreign Office advised the hostages’ families against
publicity in case it encouraged the kidnappers to believe they would win
their demands - the release of 15 comrades from prison.
In the middle of last year, Julie Mangan, Keith’s wife, realised
publicity was essential to keep pressure on the Government to negotiate
the hostages’ release, raise money so the families could visit Kashmir
and keep the hostages in the public eye. She appealed through the local
press in Keith’s home town of Middlesbrough for support. Fiona Bell and
Co offered help in kind to the overstretched campaigners.
Bell’s team, more used to selling a story for clients like BP, DuPont
and Middlesbrough Football Club, initially helped the campaign to
extricate itself from the mire of media requests. Within 24 hours, an
office was officially opened and within 48 hours the 500th day press
conference was in the pipeline. With just three weeks before the
anniversary, Bell’s team aimed to generate as much national media
coverage and political interest as possible.
A press conference was held in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons
hosted by local MP Stuart Bell (no relation) to mark the 500th day in
captivity on 14 November. Granada’s The Big Story, featuring the
hostages’ plight, was previewed to give the journalists background
Campaign patron Terry Waite, John McCarthy, the Chairman of the United
Nations Association, Stuart Bell and Julie Mangan all lit a five-wick
candle to symbolise the 500 days, with the slogan ’Light a Candle, Spare
a Thought’. Messages of support were read out from the British High
Commissioner in India, UNESCO’s director general and the Shadow Foreign
Bell’s team was thrilled when 28 journalists turned up to report the
event, including seven national papers, ITN, Reuters and the Press
Unfortunately coverage was disappointing in the national press. Apart
from a few lines in the Daily Express, the 500th day was virtually
ignored by the national press, overshadowed by the Government’s
announcement to send troops to Zaire. Broadcasting fared slightly better
with national radio, Capital Radio and regional TV stations running the
story throughout the day.
The ongoing campaign has raised a total of pounds 5,000 due in part to
the publicity efforts of Bell’s team. Middlesbrough Evening Gazette
reporter Gary Dixon, runs a daily update on Mangan and believes Bell’s
team has done much to keep the story fresh and give a new spin as often
But nationally its strength has been muted.
However, the press conference succeeded in establishing contacts at
UNESCO and the UN which Bell claims could be helpful in future.
Client: Julie Mangan
PR Team: Fiona Bell and Co
Campaign: Hostages in Kashmir
Timescale: 1 October to 14 November 1996 and ongoing