From a nearby cell, Kevin Cornwell heard the unerasable screams of a fellow prisoner being tortured with electrodes by Taliban captors. Though he escaped this fate, Mr Cornwell’s own predicament was only marginally less bleak.
For one thing his health was deteriorating rapidly. The 54-year-old humanitarian worker from Middlesbrough was denied access to basic medicine, even after contracting sepsis. He saw daylight just once a month – for 20 minutes.
Every time he was allowed to use the toilet, he was slapped and pushed by guards. And during endless rounds of interrogation, two men wielding metal pipes stood menacingly at the back of the room. He was told to forget seeing his family again.
‘Although they told me to expel all hope it was the only thing they couldn’t take away from you,’ Mr Cornwell told The Mail on Sunday in an exclusive interview.
He kept sane through meditation and ‘thinking of all the places I’d been with my family’.
Kevin Cornwell, who was imprisoned by the Taliban for nine months, is finally home with his wife Kelly after his ordeal came to an end last month
Mr Cornwell, who worked for international medical organisation Iqarus, saw sunlight once a month for 20 minutes whilst living as a Taliban captive
Kevin Cornwell pictured working in Afghanistan – before he was captured by the Taliban and imprisoned
How the Mail on Sunday broke the news of Mr Cornwell’s capture, alongside a number of other British nationals, in April
His nine-month ordeal finally over, the father of seven and grandfather of 17 is now recovering at home. He and wife Kelly, 48, plan to celebrate his freedom by renewing their wedding vows.
Mr Cornwell, who worked for Iqarus, an international medical organisation, was flown home following entreaties to the Taliban from UK Government representatives.
During his incarceration the former soldier shared a cell with an ex-Al Qaeda mullah accused of murder who spent ten hours a day trying to convert him to radical Islam.
Arrested along with an unnamed British hotel manager on January 11, Mr Cornwell was accused by Taliban secret police of possessing an illegal firearm. They also claimed he was seen carrying medical scanning equipment containing ‘explosives’.
He said he had a permit for the gun, which he only kept in his hotel room in case of a terror attack – commonplace in Afghanistan – and that the scanning equipment was to help save lives.
But he blames his detention on a backlash caused by the behaviour of Western contractors linked to corruption. At the time of his arrest he was hoping to fly home the following month for laser treatment to break up kidney stones.
Instead he was forced to endure many months of ‘excruciating pain’. Initially held in solitary confinement, he was later was put into a cell with five local prisoners including the mullah. Mr Cornwell remained there for three months before being moved to another cell which he likened to ‘an underground car park’.
He said: ‘We did get welfare packages with items like clean underwear sent to us by the Foreign Office but the Taliban stole them.’
It was only after his wife broke details of his capture in The Mail on Sunday in April that Mr Cornwell was able to call home. ‘There were four soldiers in the room all with weapons and I was told by the commander what I could and couldn’t say,’ he said.
‘The first time I was able to call home was the most exhilarating experience. I can’t explain how happy it made me feel but also how emotional. Hearing Kelly’s voice, I broke down crying.’
Kevin Cornwell spent months in the Taliban’s captivity – including stretches in solitary confinement
Mrs Cornwell says she always believed her husband would come home – but admitted there had been close calls
The Mail on Sunday has reported extensively on the plight of Mr Cornwell and his family since his capture
Mr Cornwell and his wife plan on renewing their wedding vows to celebrate his freedom
Mr Cornwell was finally given medical treatment in the summer, undergoing two operations.
‘I think I got through because of values and beliefs, and good mental health,’ he said. ‘I learned a lot about resilience from the military.’
At the end of his ordeal he was blindfolded and driven ‘fast and very dangerously’ to Kabul airport. But even then he still did not believe he was being released as ‘there had been too many false dawns.’.
Mr Cornwell’s return was bittersweet. He discovered his mother Anne had died aged 70 – only a week after his arrest.
His wife, a mental health nurse, said: ‘I never believed he wouldn’t come home although there were a few scary occasions including receiving a phone call when he said he had sepsis.
‘Then the phone rang at 4.30am and they told me he was on the flight and safely out. I ran to every bedroom shouting, dad’s coming home, he’s on the flight, and everyone got up.’ The couple described their reunion as ‘ecstatic and emotional’.
Mr Cornwell plans to ‘hopefully resume it [his work] in other countries’. He added: ‘But I do not aim to set foot in Afghanistan again.’