Kevin Cornwell: British aid worker recalls nightmare nine months in Taliban prison

Watch Katie Cole's report

A British aid worker thought he would die and never see his family again when he was imprisoned by the Taliban for nine months.

Kevin Cornwell was helping to set up a free healthcare clinic for Afghan civilians in January this year when he was arrested and accused of having an illegal firearm.

No charges were brought but he spent 272 days behind bars in Afghanistan - during which he suffered two bouts of sepsis he believed could kill him. He was released in October.

Speaking to ITV Tyne Tees at his Lancashire home, Mr Cornwell, who has an ongoing kidney condition, said: "Ten thousand people in the UK die every year of sepsis. It's one of the biggest infections that anybody can have.

"But the thing is, I wasn't in a sort of normal frame of mind because the sepsis on both occasions made me hallucinate."

Mr Cornwell, originally from Middlesbrough, recalled the moment he returned to his Afghanistan hotel and was met by the Taliban.

The group had regained control of Afghanistan 18 months earlier when western coalition forces left.

  • Kevin Cornwell recalls the moment he returned to his Afghanistan hotel and was met by the Taliban

"My room was totally in disarray," he said. "There was everything turned upside down, all my equipment and was spread across the room. My clothing was spread across the room in my bedroom area and in my office environments as if someone had threw something in there and it exploded."

He was then asked about having a weapon, but when he showed the Taliban member to his safe, it was open and his pistol was missing.

"We got put into a Land Cruiser and we got bags put over our heads and I had my phones taken off me and turned off straight away," he continued.

"And as soon as I saw them going to clear plastic bag, which is like a Ziplock bag, I thought, I think I might be here a while."

Mr Cornwell said his gun was licensed and he had it in case of a terrorist attack. The charges were later dropped but he did not go home.

During his time behind bars, the aid worker was only allowed outside of his cell for 20 minutes a month.

Inside he meditated and practiced taekwondo, although that nearly cost him his life and he was forced to stop.

"The guard kept coming to the cell door and making threats to me because they could see on the CCTV that I was doing something, you know, related to like combat and fighting and things like that," he said.

"So I just stopped doing that because I was sick of the threats coming to the door or the cage with an AK 47 or a pistol or knife and just telling me that I was going to die and they were going to kill me."

Kevin Cornwell's wife Kelly shared their story and released pictures of him in a desperate bid to secure his police. Credit: Kevin Cornwell

His life was also in danger due to a kidney condition, for which he missed a planned operation for in February.

It was this that prompted his wife Kelly to share their story. Unsure whether he was even alive, she became so concerned she considered going to Afghanistan.

Two days after going to the press, Mrs Cornwell said she received a call from her husband, adding: "I don't think we really talked about much - seven minutes of 'I love you'."

She continued calling for his release and 272 days after being detained, Mr Cornwell was released and came home.

Flying back to the UK, where his wife and children were waiting, was "surreal" for Mr Cornwell.

"We were taxiing down the runway," he said. "I still wasn't convinced I was leaving at this point. Not until that plane was in the air and it was out of the airspace. When I arrived  in front of Kelly, then I knew I was safe."

  • Kevin Cornwell describes landing back in the UK and seeing his wife again

Back at home in Fleetwood, the couple are rebuilding their lives. Mr Cornwell has an operation on his kidney planned next week.

In the meantime they are taking each day as it comes, and enjoying the simple things.

"Building memories with the family is the most important thing," he continued. "Build the memories, not videoing it, not photographing it, building them inside your head with the people that are most important to you."

Kevin Cornwell and wife Kelly are enjoying the simple things in life. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

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