What a difference a year makes. From being kidnapped by convicts high on drugs to talking about their miraculous escape in a packed March church

Dr David Donovan with his wife Shirley and optometrist Alanna Carson after a talk in St Wendredas Ch

Dr David Donovan with his wife Shirley and optometrist Alanna Carson after a talk in St Wendredas Church in March. The trio were kidnapped in the Delta regiuon of Nigeria on October 13, 2017. Their colleague Ian Squire was shot. Picture: KATH SANSOM - Credit: Archant

A former March GP has spoken of his 22 days in captivity, after being kidnapped by gunmen high on cocaine and marijuana, while carrying out charity health work in Nigeria.

Former March GP David Donovan and his wife Shirley during missionary work in the Delta region of Nig

Former March GP David Donovan and his wife Shirley during missionary work in the Delta region of Nigeria, with their charity, New Foundations. - Credit: Archant

Dr David Donovan, his wife Shirley and optometrist Alanna Carson gave a talk to a packed St Wendredas Church in March about the moment they were grabbed at gun point from their high security bungalow and taken by boat to a platoon in a remote swamp.

While their captors demanded a ransom of millions they were forced to lie on two mattresses, watched by up to 17 gun-wielding guards who spent their days listening to gangster rap on their mobile phones, while high on drugs.

Dr Donovan, whose missionary charity New Foundations has been in the dangerous Delta region of the Niger since 2003, said: “It was 1-2am and we were woken by a colossal pounding on the front door. We knew instantly what was happening.

“We had window grills and reinforced doors for safety but they got in. They cut the generator so the bungalow was pitch black. We scrambled to find clothes as they aggressively pushed us out brandishing AK47s.

“We were taken by speed boat past sleeping villages full of people we have treated in our health clinics for 14 years. Now we were passing silently as captives.

“After an hour we went down a small tributary, the engine cut and we went into a rickety jetty.

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“They were high as kites but bizarrely they cleaned our feet and directed us to a pontoon.

“It was surreal. We knew this was a nightmare scenario. We also knew there was no plan B.

“Everyone knew us in that region, we run health clinics, we make people better. We hoped they would realise their mistake and let us go in the morning.”

The next day the captors asked what they wanted. At their request they brought bottled water, snacks, a Bible, a pair of glasses and medic Ian Squire’s guitar.

“The only song Ian could play with no sheet music was Amazing Grace, so we all sang.

“Afterwards Ian stood up to put the guitar away. From nowhere came two shots. Direct to the back of Ian’s head. He fell to the floor, Dead.

“We jumped in the water paralysed with fear and held to each other and prayed,” he said.

“For the next six hours we were tormented by the guards, all high, threatening to blow my legs off, threatening to rape Shirley and Alanna.”

The trio were piled into another boat and taken to a tiny hut on a pontoon where they spent the rest of their time in captivity.

Alanna said: “At first I didn’t think we would get out alive but as the days went on we found our power in peace.”

Shirley said: “My heart ached to hold my sons and for Ian’s death. We should have come back with ptsd or shock, but we haven’t, because we kept our faith. We kept reading the Bible.

“As the days went on the men began falling sick. They had bloody dysentery, malaria. We remained well.

“In between gangster rap blasting from phones, they began listening to our forgiveness prayers.

“Three times we thought they were going to shoot us. Three times they didn’t”

On the final day, seemingly from nowhere, the lead guard insisted they tell everyone Ian had died from not eating.

Then they were whisked to a boat and taken to an embankment.

Shirley said: “Arms grabbed us out the darkness and we were lifted into a leather-interior black jeep and driven at speed to the Governor’s house where we ate a meal fit for royalty served by a butler.

“I went from filthy rags on a mattress in a swamp to traditional Nigerian costume on a private jet sipping a coffee,” Shirley said. “Try making sense of that.”

They were then flown to the UK where armed guards took them to the Hilton Hotel.

“A door opened and there were our families. It was over,” Shirley said.

David added: “Our families want to extend a deep hand of gratitude to everyone who prayed for us. Here there is true community, the like of which I’ve never seen in all my life other than in the town of March.”

•The couple’s New Foundations charity was set up in 2004. They ploughed their money into setting up health clinics in a dangerous area in the Delta with no roads, no drinking water, torn apart by oil politics and dangerous to Westerners. They train local people as health care workers and deliver ultrasounds, malaria medication, eye tests, issue glasses, administer vaccinations and wound care. They also provide dentistry, hernia and cataract surgery, schooling, children’s health and lab testing.