England

Alan Henning 'Islamic State killing': Eccles pays tribute

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Media caption"Absolutely heartbroken": People in Eccles, many who knew Mr Henning, describe their shock

Alan Henning's apparent death has stunned people to the core in his hometown of Eccles, where yellow ribbons remain tied to lampposts in the heavy morning rain.

A video purporting to show the 47-year-old taxi driver being beheaded has been released by Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS and ISIL) militants.

He had been delivering aid to Syria in December when he was kidnapped and then held hostage by IS.

When I arrived here about half an hour after the news broke on Friday night, people who knew Alan Henning well said they simply couldn't comprehend what had happened.

With Islamic clerics and so many other people around the world putting pressure on Islamic State to release Mr Henning there was a modicum of hope - people genuinely thought he would survive.

And so it was such a crushing blow on Friday night when they discovered that he had apparently been murdered in such a horrible way.

Speaking to taxi driver Mike Hyde - one of Mr Henning's former colleagues - he broke down in tears. He said he had had to come out on his own and drive around to try to get his head around what had happened.

Image caption Mike Hyde said Mr Henning had encouraged him to join him on one of the aid convoys

Mr Hyde, a man usually known to Mr Henning as "Rambo", said: "I am just heartbroken - I can't speak, really. He was just doing his best, you know?

"He was just a nice ordinary man, making a living like all of us. I've never heard him say a bad word about anybody."

Mr Hyde described what his friend, who was widely known as Gadget or Gadge because of his uncanny ability to fix anything, as "fun to be with - we used to work nights all the time together and he'd cheer you up.

"I spoke to him about these convoys and he just wanted to make a difference. When he went on one, he enjoyed it and said 'you should come on one too'."

Many other cabbies I spoke to were too upset to speak on tape, but they just could not understand why anybody would do this to a man who had gone out to Syria to help refugees displaced by a terrible civil war.

They pointed out that Mr Henning didn't have to go out to Syria - he didn't have any political connections and he just wanted to help people in their hour of need.

While there was understandably a degree of anger here, with comments like "the Islamic State are just barbarous killers" and "they are psychopaths", people were at pains to tell me they did not want any comeback for Muslims living in Eccles and the wider Greater Manchester area.

"They [Islamic State] don't represent Islam," was something I heard time and again, echoing a statement from the Manchester Council of Mosques, which said: "This was a cowardly and criminal act of appalling brutality by a group who do not represent Islam and are an insult to the Islamic faith.

"We will remember him as a tireless and selfless humanitarian aid worker whose only concern was to help people in need."

Image caption Yellow ribbons were tied to lampposts as an expression of hope that Alan Henning would one day safely return to his family and friends in Eccles

Mr Hyde said: "There's quite a big Muslim community here - everybody gets on fine, really, and let's hope that continues.

"I just hope there's no backlash over here - but the people who are responsible for this should get everything that is coming to them.

"You've just got to throw the book at these people now - gloves are off. Enough's enough. They've obviously got no heart whatsoever, no humanity."

That view was shared by many others.

One former soldier urged the government to extend its military remit from solely carrying out airstrikes in Iraq. He said: "It's time for boots on the ground."

For now though, the community here just wants to come to terms with what has happened, and to respect a man they will always fondly remember as somebody who paid the ultimate price while trying to make a difference in a faraway land.

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