David Cameron says governments shouldn’t pay ransoms. He’s right. He also says that companies and individuals should be banned from paying ransoms. That’s dead wrong. Governments know they have millions of citizens all over the world at risk. They also make decisions in order to acquire political capital in the interests of their people – this person for that job and those folks’ release; that contract and this vote in return for this treaty over here. There’s some evidence too, apparently (broadly, it seems doubtful), showing that people are more likely to be kidnapped by ‘political kidnappers’ if they’re from a country that tacitly pays ransoms. In fact, most kidnappers in the world’s less safe spots do it not for ideology but for money. If a private citizen pays them, they get their child/brother back. If they don’t, they get a body, or their family member gets sold on to a local terrorist organisation. I’ve met two people who have paid for the safe return of their loved ones. Wouldn’t we all if we had the money? It’s also surely right that when an employer sends someone to a dangerous part of the world, they should be prepared to do anything that enables that employee’s safe return. The moral calculus for governments is different from that of families or employers. I’m suspicious, for example, of NGOs who say that they don’t pay ransoms because that’s UK government policy, when the rest of the time they would run a mile before automatically supporting ‘government policy’ so unquestioningly. Scottish charity worker Khalil Dale was kidnapped and eventually killed in Pakistan. In the end, he died because his employers, The Red Cross, wouldn’t pay a ransom to his commercial kidnappers and he was passed on to terrorists. Kidnap and ransom insurance is expensive. NGOs save money by not insuring their employees and hiding behind UK government policy. Serious employers who don’t duck their moral responsibilities understand that their employees in dangerous places are most likely to be kidnapped by people who take whatever prisoners they can grab and ask about nationality later. They take precautions. They take out kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance. In the end, governments can’t cure all ills. In spite of what we see on telly, the great majority of kidnappers (including most of the ideological kind) grab whoever they can for money – often relatively small amounts. It would be monstrous, and truly grotesque, to say to a family or a caring employer that they should let their child or employee die in order to demonstrate a misconceived solidarity with a government that can’t save the victim. Ask yourself this – if your child popped into your kitchen to let you know their employer was sending them to a dangerous part of the world, wouldn’t you want to know that their employer would do anything they could to get them back alive if things hit the fan? Or would you prefer to learn that, well, if s/he finds themselves in the poo, you know, they’ll be on their own on account of it’s bad to pay ransoms? Today, I visited my Mum outside Perth. She lives in the same village as the child and ex-wife of David Haines, the latest kidnap victim in the middle east – he attended the school I did. Sometimes it seems like a small world – but it isn’t. If tonight’s Twitter reports are true, then I’m sorrier than I can say for Mr Haines’ family. In cases like Mr Haines, there’s in truth very little the government can do unless the kidnappers give their location away. But if, much earlier, commercial kidnappers can be talked to by experts who have money to put into their pockets (and not, as the truism has it, always on to ideological interest) then lives can be saved.