Marine glad to be home

STEPHEN PULLINGER Former hostage Mark Banks is back home in Lowestoft after his 13-day ordeal in Iran. Greeting him was a Welcome Home Mark’ sign and bunting rigged up by neighbours.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

After a whirlwind couple of days it was possibly the first time Mark Banks could really begin to savour his new-found freedom.

Not the instant the previously obscure Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad played the closing move in his cynical publicity game, not the touch-down of the 15 heroes at Heathrow, not even the emotional family reunion at the Royal Marines base at Chivenor in Devon.

The moment the 24-year-old Marine really felt himself returning to reality would have come as he walked up the front path of his parents' detached home in Conrad Road, Lowestoft - and took in the 'Welcome Home Mark' sign and bunting rigged up by neighbours.

After all the tensions and anxieties of 13 days in captivity, he was content to let his family take centre stage on his first full day home.

While Mark had apparently faced up to the immense psychological pressures with the courage you would expect from a Marine, his parents and siblings looked visibly worn down by the their traumatic experience as they emerged nervously on to the lawn for a short press conference.

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Expressing “unbelievable pride” at the bravery and defiance Mark had shown during his ordeal, mother Penny, 49, a holiday park receptionist, confessed the whole experience had been overwhelming for the family and said they had been “glued to the television” for updates.

She visibly struggled to find words to convey the joy they felt when they learned on Wednesday he would be coming home, and the magical moment of the family reunion in Devon.

Father Allistair, 52, described the time that had elapsed since their son's capture by the Iranians as an “absolutely extraordinary rollercoaster ride”. He said: “We are so happy to have him back. And I must say how unbelievable the support of our friends and neighbours has been from day one.”

Sister Anna, 18, a bank worker, echoed her father's sentiments, saying: “We are just glad to have him back and we have not thought about the politics of it all.”

Mr Banks, a railway safety officer, said: “Mark has not talked in great depth about his experiences so far. He is just glad to be back in his usual routine.”

Asked whether she would let her son out of her sight again, Mrs Banks smiled and said: “I don't think I will have a choice. Mark loves his job and you will never change him on that.”

But she said her son was content, for the moment, to relax at home and had not worked out what he would be doing during his period of leave.

“The time will come for some sort of family celebration, but he is just very tired at the moment,” she said, adding that they had all been helped by “huge support from the MoD”.

Brother Neil, 26, also a local bank worker, read out a prepared statement from the family saying “words cannot describe the relief we feel at having Mark back home safe and well”.

It said he had conducted himself with a huge amount of dignity throughout his ordeal “despite being held in hostile and uncomfortable conditions, which is in direct contradiction to what his captors had attempted to portray”.

The family expressed “absolute confidence that Mark has the resilience and strength of character to progress on from this”.