‘It’s wonderful to be home’ - What was making the news on this day in 1991

On this day: EDP 3 April 1991 On this day: EDP 3 April 1991

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
5:17 PM

We look back on what was making the news on this day in Norfolk. Today, we look at the Eastern Daily Press front page of April 3, 1991.

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Businessman Roger Cooper, jailed for five years without trial in Iran, tasted freedom yesterday — a strong cup of English tea.

Mr Cooper, 55, quickly showed his true Brit style of wit and the tolerance which helped him survive his ordeal.

He told a Heathrow news conference he had survived through “sheer bloody-mindedness”. And although he felt some bitterness at his incarceration for alleged spying, he remained fond of Iran — and would like to return one day. Mr Cooper, who went to his brother Paul’s London home after flying back to Britain, said it was “wonderful” to be there and told newsmen: “I have just had a good cup of English tea which has really perked me up.”

Then, despite having had no sleep for 36 hours, he was driven to his 85-year-old father’s home at Banbury, Oxfordshire, for a reunion. His joy was tinged with sadness. His mother, elder brother, and an uncle died while he was in prison.

A scholar of the Persian language, literature and culture, Mr Cooper arrived at Heathrow shortly before 10am after his surprise release from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison overnight.

It was initially kept secret for fear that Islamic fundamentalists would block the move. Sir Anthony Parsons, former ambassador to Iran and a close friend of Mr Cooper, said he was an “extraordinary person who can endure an ordeal better than anyone else”. Mr Cooper’s tale of courage began with his arrest on December 7, 1985.

He was reluctant to go into details but said last night that he was ill-treated during the early stages of his sentence. “I have got a stubbornness about me and I was deter-mined not to give in,” he said.

And with his father listening, Mr Cooper described how he made up various keep-fit exercises which he performed daily in his tiny prison. He also invented games to occupy him during many long solitary hours.

Businessman Roger Cooper with his daughter, Gisu, and brother, Paul, at Heathrow Airport yesterday.

During the latter stages of his imprisonment, Mr Cooper — known to the expatriate community in Tehran for his French cuisine — took on the responsibility of catering for himself and some of his cell-mates. He joked: “I have been thinking about writing a ‘Good Jail Cookbook’ based on what I have learned.”

He said he was not told he was being released and did not realise that he was on his way back to England until he was put in a car and noticed it was going towards the airport.

He still did not know the exact terms on which he was set free: “It was a bit of a mystery to me why I had really come out of that prison.”

Mr Cooper, who is divorced from his Iranian wife, hugged his 28-year-old daughter Gisu as he joked that anybody who was educated in an English public school and served in the ranks of the British Army, as he had, would have no problems in a Third World prison.

He understood there was a struggle between establishment people who wanted to release him and those who opposed the idea, and that it was resolved only late on Monday night. It was the “pragmatists” around Iran’s President Rafsanjani who pressed for his release.

“I believe the Iran that has set me free is not exactly the same as the Iran that arrested me. There have been changes going on,” he said. Mr Cooper said he believed one reason he was originally arrested was that he matched the profile of an English spy — as seen from Tehran. He lived in Iran off and on since 1958 and had no obvious single job.

He may also have fallen victim to the spy mania which infected Iran at the time. “I do feel bitter towards some people,” he confessed.

He was particularly bitter about Iranian interrogators who put him under a lot of pressure to make his televised confession. “That was frankly staged,” he said. “There were certain things that were written for me, or that I adapted to meet their requests. I learned it by heart.”

Gisu, a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, said of her father’s return: “I cannot believe it. I still don’t believe it. I’M still half-dazed, but very happy.” Mr Cooper’s release was wel-comed by Prime Minister John Major, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

The move marks a key stage in the growing rapprochement between London and Tehran... but reaction from the Lebanon dampened hopes for hostages John McCarthy, Jackie Mann and Terry Waite.

Mr Hurd said the move was an “important step” towards improved Anglo-Iranian relations but solving the hostage issue would “open a new chapter” in relations with Tehran.

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