The Daily Mirror reports:
It is the first place thousands of English football fans will see when they arrive in Moscow for the Champions League final. But for one young British visitor, Moscow Airport’s cavernous customs hall was the start of a living nightmare he was lucky to survive.
Tig Hague, 35, was on a business trip in 2003 when, misunderstanding a request for a backhander, he was pulled to one side to have his bag searched. Just one more irritating inconvenience, he thought – until the guard found a tiny lump of hashish in a pocket, the remnant of a recent stag weekend. By nightfall the banker from London found himself in Moscow’s infamous Piet Central jail, accused of being a drug smuggler. Later sentenced to four-and-a-half years in the gulags, he was soon on the way to the notorious Zone 22 prison camp in the remote wastes of Mordovia.
Issuing a warning to fans travelling to the all-English final on Wednesday, Tig says: “I was incredibly naive and I would hate for someone else to make the same mistake. Anyone travelling to Russia needs to be extremely careful.”
It was just hours after Tig had kissed his fiancee Lucy goodbye on the morning of July 17, 2003, that his life descended into hell. He was five yards from the airport exit and could see a driver holding a card with his name on it. He recalls: “A customs official shouted at me to join another queue to have my bags X-rayed. I’d taken whisky for my clients and some Western cigarettes. The official started telling me I couldn’t take them through and asked if I had any money. “With my English head on, it didn’t register with me that a bribe was in order. Because the penny didn’t drop, he decided to search my case.”
As the official picked up a pair of jeans, Tig froze, remembering the events of the weekend when he’d met friends on a stag do and, after drinking heavily, had decided to buy some cannabis. Tig says: “The world went into slow motion as I watched him run his hands through the pockets. Then he barked something in Russian and guys with submachine guns started running towards me.” Wrapped in a Rizla paper, the tiny amount of dope was enough to warrant a slap on the wrist in the UK. But Tig was far from home. “I was frogmarched to a room, strip-searched, and made to sign a statement which was all in Russian,” he says. “I managed to text Lucy and call my boss back in London on my mobile before my things were taken away. “Hours later I was lying in a dirty, damp cell in Piet Central jail, sobbing uncontrollably.”
Back home, Lucy’s world fell apart just as dramatically. She says: “I was shopping in my lunch break when I got a text message from Tig which read, ‘I love you more than you will ever know, forever in your heart’.” A few minutes later she saw Tig’s boss on his way to find her. “He told me he could be away for seven years and I collapsed in a heap, dropping my shopping bags on the pavement.”
Tig was refused bail and put in the foreigners’ cell of a Moscow prison where he remained for two months. He quickly learned how to survive in the harsh environment where guards would subject prisoners to random beatings. A mobile phone, smuggled in by an African cellmate, provided a lifeline, allowing him to make a few brief phone calls to his family.
Lucy says: “In September I went to visit Tig with his mum. I was shocked at how thin and ill he looked. As soon as I got out of there I burst into tears.”
Despite his family’s best efforts – and a £30,000 bribe – Tig was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in the notorious gulag Zone 22. “Lucy bribed a guard Û500 to spend five minutes with me. I just clung to her, sobbing, saying, ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me. I was then herded on to a train for the 500-mile journey. I was terrified.” But the prison camp was even worse than Tig expected. In winter inmates froze in temperatures as low as -35C and in the summer the heat was unbearable. Sadistic guards meted out indiscriminate beatings and disease was rife.
During his incarceration his parents – a builder and a housewife – shelled out more than £100,000 in bribes and also provided him with enough chocolate, coffee and cigarettes to buy his way out of trouble. Tig says: “It was medieval. The buildings were riddled with cockroaches. They put me to work in a sewing factory. The material was saturated in chemicals and we’d get welts and fungus all over our bodies. My eye swelled up so much they came close to removing it.”
But the most torturous part was when Lucy came to visit. Because they weren’t husband and wife they had to sit at opposite sides of the room. Desperate to spend time together Tig and Lucy decided to tie the knot. The ceremony took place in October 2004, followed by a 48-hour “honeymoon” in a dirty cell with two beds pushed together. “Those two days got me through the rest of my sentence,” Tig says. “But we don’t speak about the wedding day. It’s still far too painful.”
Tig was finally released in March 2005 after clocking up points for good behaviour and paying off two prison officials. He now has a new job and the couple have a 15-month-old daughter, Isabella. Two years since his ordeal finally came to an end, Tig has this advice for football fans: “Don’t take any risks with anything. Bribery is endemic so always carry Û150 to bribe your way out of trouble. “Don’t go anywhere without photo ID. And if you do get into trouble, don’t sign anything, insist on seeing a lawyer and speak to the embassy. “Don’t do anything that, like me, you may regret for the rest of your life.”