LONDON (Reuters) - Mother, wife and Royal Navy sailor Faye Turney has become the human face of a crisis between Britain and Iran over the detention of 15 British military personnel that has turned into a media show.
Turney was propelled into the spotlight on Wednesday when Iran broadcast an interview with the 26-year-old, wearing the headscarf worn traditionally by many women in the Muslim world and smoking a cigarette.
She offered a poignant image on television - with eyes cast down and blonde hair tucked into a black hijab, she acknowledged “trespassing” in Iranian waters last week and apologised for the incident.
British tabloids trumpeted their disgust at what they saw as a coerced “confession” and pure Iranian propaganda. “A British mother paraded on state TV. Forced to wear the hijab,” The Daily Mail wrote.
After watching the television clips of Turney, body language expert Robert Phipps said: “Her tone was very monosyllabic and it was delivered in a slow format. The eyes were cast down and to the left which showed she is feeling stress.
“She singled herself out by being the only woman there and the Iranians made hay with that. She has been forced to wear a hijab and does not look comfortable,” he told Reuters.
Defence analyst Charles Heyman said: “It does tug at the heartstrings and is very different to the picture of a tough marine. We are not the masters of spin. The Iranians are good at public relations campaigns and spin.”
Heyman said Iran was aiming at a different audience: “They are saying they don’t really feel that women should be in a frontline operation in the armed forces. They are playing to Muslim sensibilities.”
Turney, who lives in Plymouth in south-west England with husband Adam and three-year-old daughter Molly, tried to reassure her family in a hand-written letter released by Iran.
“Please don’t worry about me. I am staying strong. Hopefully it won’t be long until I am home to get ready for Molly’s birthday party...”
Turney was detained along with the 14 other British sailors and marines after they had searched a ship during a routine patrol in the mouth of the waterway separating Iran and Iraq.
Britain says they were in Iraqi waters. Tehran says they had crossed into Iranian waters when they were detained.
Just hours before, Turney had happened to be interviewed by the BBC.
“I am the only mum on board at the moment. A lot of people find it hard to understand why and how I can do the job I do but I have always wanted to join the forces,” she said.
“My daughter fully accepts what I do ... as long as she is happy then I can get on with doing what I do.”
The images of some of the 15, including Turney, seated and eating off of plastic plates, and a separate Turney interview, first appeared on Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam satellite channel. They were then broadcast on the state Farsi-language channel, which is listened to by most Iranians.
Former Royal Air Force navigator John Nichol, shot down in 1991 and held by Iraq during the Gulf War, said Turney’s Iranian television statement was “pure propaganda. But they are smart enough to say whatever is necessary to aid their release.”
British soldier turned novelist Andy McNab, who first rose to fame in 1993 with his “Bravo Two Zero” account of a failed SAS (Special Air Service) mission in the Gulf War, told Reuters: “They are political pawns in a propaganda war.”
“The Iranians picked her out to show their compassion, to show she is safe. From their point of view, they have done the right thing,” he added.
When Iran seized eight British military personnel in a similar incident in 2004 they were shown walking blindfolded.