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Consultant tells of escape from Georgian bandits

Twelve months ago Peter Shaw was celebrating after being named Consultant of the Year at the British Consultants Bureau annual lunch. Last week he was again celebrating at the event, but this time for simply still being alive.

IT IS hard to imagine being confined for any length of time in a pitch dark, 1.5m by 2m cell, 3m below ground with a heavy chain around your neck.

But Peter Shaw, a banker employed by development consultant Landell Mills, endured these conditions for nearly four and a half months. Held captive by bandits in Georgia, Shaw had no natural light, just one candle a day to see with, no one to talk to, a straw filled bed to sleep on and some old clothes to keep him warm.

'It wasn't good news, ' explained the quietly spoken Welshman as he addressed a stunned audience at the British Consultants & Contractors Bureau (formerly BCB) annual lunch in Westminster last week, just two weeks after his dramatic ordeal came to an end.

'It was starting to get very cold in November and I knew that if I didn't get out before winter set in I'd be dead by December.'

Shaw's story is a remarkable tale of courage, endurance and self-belief. And, as he is keen to admit, it includes much good fortune and coincidence.

Trouble began in May when he was working on a project to set up a new European Union backed bank in Georgia specifically to service the agricultural market. Six years spent working in a country where business, politics and corruption have an umbilical link meant Shaw had generated a few enemies along the way.

Yet Shaw says it was still a surprise to be seized by kidnappers in broad daylight and bundled off in the boot of a car. From the Georgian capital Tbilisi he was ferried around from hideout to hideout for several weeks until being dumped in a hole in the ground in the Pankisi Gorge, as it turned out, just two and a half hours from home.

Isolation followed. With no English speakers among his captors, no contact with other humans other than 'the two arms that brought food, water, cigarettes and candles' what followed were four and a half months of mental torture.

'It was miserable. You imagine the worst but just take one day at a time, ' says Shaw, reflecting on his experience. 'You just have to do something to keep your head straight. Survival was the name of the game, although I quickly came to terms with the fact that I was probably going to die.'

Meanwhile a $2M (£1.3M) ransom was put on his head. As the days of captivity dragged into weeks then months Shaw last week admitted with a smile:

'It became obvious that I wasn't worth it.'

And although he did not know it, a huge operation had swung into action in the UK to put pressure on the government to help find out where he was, who was holding him and how to get him out. But lack of information meant his supporters did not really even know for sure that he was even alive.

Back in his cell, Shaw spent days talking to himself and keeping active by doing press-ups and squats to keep his circulation going - the cell was too low for him to stand up properly.

Despite this, when the lid was eventually lifted on the pit and he was dragged out into the night, he could barely walk.

Shaw later admitted: 'I was somewhat apprehensive about their intentions'.

What followed was a bizarre sequence of events. On hearing a machine gun being cocked, Shaw made a dive for cover in a hedge and crawled away from the gunfire that followed.

Behind him his captors appeared to shoot the wrong man and make their escape.

Still staggering, Shaw then scampered across the hills and by some twist of good fortune stumbled into the Georgian army. His good luck continued when he then bumped into the Georgian deputy minister for security who he had met before being kidnapped.

Two and a half hours later he was on television as a hero.

'I have no doubt that my prayers and the thousands of prayers said on my behalf were answered, ' said Shaw.

Now back at home in Cardiff for Christmas, Shaw has vowed to change his workaholic lifestyle. 'I have told my family that I'm retiring, ' he says, just three weeks before his 58th birthday. 'I am sure that my feet will begin to itch again and I might do some consulting in Europe.'

But he adds: 'I certainly won't be going back to Georgia. I really enjoyed my six years in Georgia but the last five months have been pretty heavy.'

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