Now a happy and reunited family's life back in the UK begins, as Neil Connery reports
The families of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashoori shed tears of joy as they were reunited with their families after years of a "long and cruel separation" caused by their detention in Iran.
The pair touched down on British soil in the early hours of Thursday morning at RAF Brize Norton and were finally able to hug their children and families after a long fight to get them freed.
A video shared on social media showed the emotional homecoming as Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugged and kissed her young daughter and Mr Ashoori’s family sobbed.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s seven-year-old daughter Gabriella was heard asking “is that mummy?” and again shouted “mummy” as her mother walked down the plane’s stairs.
Watch the moment Gabriella is finally reunited with her mum Nazanin
Richard Ratcliffe, who has long campaigned for his wife's release and had gone on hunger strike last year, shook Mr Ashoori’s hand, as Gabriella appeared to run towards her mother, who was out of shot. She then carried the little girl in her arms as they were surrounded by other family members.
Mr Ashoori was then reunited with his family, who were in tears as they embraced. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe then appeared in the video and hugged and kissed her daughter, and asked her “do I smell nice?” before holding her hands.
She also hugged members of the Ashoori family.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori smile and chat as they walk from the aircraft to be reunited with their families on British soil for the first time in several years
Gabriella spent the night sleeping in between Richard and Nazanin for the first time in six years, Richard's sister Rebecca told ITV's Good Morning Britain.
"This is a little girl who for most of her life hasn't known her childhood with both her parents - she's known her childhood with mummy and granny and she's known her childhood with daddy - so this has been something she's been wanting for a long time," she said.
She added: "She slept in the bed in between them last night. I think that's a really special moment for all three of them."
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Iran in 2016 and detained for six years after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.
Mr Ashoori, who was arrested in 2017 and detained in Evin prison for almost five years, was accused of spying. He was reportedly subjected to torture during his detention.
The British-Iranians left Iran on Wednesday after their release was secured.
Their MP, Labour's Tulip Siddiq, tweeted an image of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe embracing her husband and daughter with the caption: “This picture makes me so happy and so proud of all 3 of my brave constituents. Thank you everyone for your constant support for this incredible family. #NazaninIsFree”
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said “yesterday was a good day at work” as he shared a photo of both returned Britons with their families.
Sharing photographs from the flight on Twitter, Stephanie Al-Qaq, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign Office, said there was “relief and joy” as the British-Iranians and officials left Tehran.
While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was “delighted” that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were home.
Speaking at Brize Norton after the arrival, she said: “I think it’s been a really difficult 48 hours, the expectation that they would be released, but we weren’t sure right until the last moment.
“It’s been very emotional, but also a really happy moment for the families, and I’m pleased to say that both Nazanin and Anoosheh are in good spirits and they’re safe and well back here in Britain.”
Asked whether Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori thanked her following their return, Ms Truss said: “Well, I thank them and I thank the families for how stoical they’ve been during this really, really difficult period.
“And we talked about the process that we’ve been through, the difficult last part of making sure that they were able to leave Iran but it’s so fantastic to welcome them back safe and well here in Britain.”
'It's been very emotional': Liz Truss speaks after the pair return home
A third British-Iranian national, Morad Tahbaz, a wildlife conservationist, who had been detained has also been freed, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss confirmed, but Mr Tahbaz is on "furlough" from prison and is still unable to leave Iran.
Ms Truss told the Commons on Wednesday that the key to the pair's release was paying off a more than 40-year-old £400 million debt by Britain to Iran.
She said it is being paid in a way which complies with UK and international sanctions, with the funds that have been released being restricted to humanitarian purposes only.
The dual nationals had flown from Tehran to Oman, where they were greeted by officials as they got off the plane, before they headed home to the UK. Oman has been closely involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure their freedom.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains why Britain was in debt of £400 million to Iran and why the payment has been made now
Earlier, Oman's foreign minister, Badr Albusaidi, said they had arrived "safely" and shared an image of the pair as he thanked Tehran and London for their "hard work and good faith" in getting them home.
Speaking alongside their daughter near their home in West Hampstead on Wednesday, Mr Ratcliffe said the first thing his wife will want when she gets home is a cup of tea made by him.
Mr Ratcliffe said his wife's return will mark "the beginning of a new life, a normal life," but acknowledged it will be a "whole process" getting back to some form of normality after their six-year ordeal.
"Hopefully we'll look back in years to come and be a normal family.
"This will be a chapter in our lives but there will be many more chapters to come," he said.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's brother Mohammed told ITV News when his family realised she was on a plane coming home "everyone was crying" because they knew "this is over”.
Mr Ashoori’s daughter Elika, 35, said the news had been “very, very sudden” and the family were “over the moon” after five years of turmoil, adding: "Our suffering is going to end".
Speaking alongside her brother Aryan, 32, she said: “The hardest part would be when he tried to take his own life.
“He wanted to remove himself from the equation, in part because they were threatening us, our safety. They were telling him they were monitoring our movement.
“Him trying to take his own life was, in a sense, a way to protect us. I think that’s as dark as this story got.”
The siblings said they would need to “tread carefully” because of the trauma their father had suffered, but they, like Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family, hoped his homecoming would mark a return to normality.
Elika, a pastry chef, said she had made a cake to greet him with when he steps off the plane.
Why were the Nazanin and Anoosheh arrested?
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, now 43, was arrested in April 2016 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport following a holiday visit to Iran to see family, and was sentenced to five years in prison, after being found guilty of "plotting to topple the Iranian government" - something she has always denied.
As her sentence was due to end she was sentenced to another year in jail in April 2021.
Her lawyer said she received the second jail sentence on a charge of spreading “propaganda against the system” for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.
Dual national Mr Ashoori, now 68, a retired civil engineer, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran, and held in Evin prison.
Despite living in the UK for 20 years, Mr Ashoori was convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and sentenced to prison for 10 years.
During his time in detention, he was subjected to torture and a catalogue of inhumane experiences, according to Amnesty International UK.