The cold-blooded murder of British hostage Ken Bigley in Iraq has brought his tortuous three-week ordeal to a tragic conclusion. Sadly, this was always the most likely outcome. It was Bigley's great misfortune to fall into the hands of one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the country. Hopes that its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, would respond to pleas for mercy were slim, even though they persisted to the last moment. The 62-year-old engineer is the latest helpless victim among many thousands who have needlessly lost their lives since the United States-led invasion of Iraq. But his death stands out because of the agonising ordeal which the terrorists forced him and his family to endure - one made all the more painful by reports that he may have briefly escaped before being recaptured and killed. The cruel, yet sophisticated methods used by the group have added a new dimension to the tactics of terror in Iraq. Bigley was seized along with two Americans. They were swiftly put to death. But he was kept alive. This was done so that videos of his heart-rending pleas for help could be broadcast to put pressure on British Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was a carefully calculated move. The terrorists believed - rightly - that the plight of Bigley would have more of an emotional impact in Britain than that of the US hostages in America. They knew it would inflame existing opposition to the war and cause Mr Blair embarrassment at his own party's conference. Perhaps they hoped to drive a wedge between the US and its closest ally. After all, the prisoners whose release the group demanded were in American - not British - hands. The strategy had some success. It turned up the political heat on Mr Blair. And it ensured that the group achieved extensive media coverage. But the British government stood firm in its determination not to give in to terrorists. While this posed a moral dilemma, it was undoubtedly the right approach. The making of concessions would only have emboldened the terrorists and led to more hostages being taken. Every effort short of concessions appears to have been made to secure Bigley's release. British officials arranged for 100,000 leaflets to be circulated in Baghdad asking for information as to his whereabouts. Crack troops were on standby to stage a rescue bid. And attempts were made to talk to - but not negotiate with - the terrorists. Throughout all this, the hostage's tormented family did everything in their power to secure his release - and did so with great dignity. Bigley, who had spent many years in the Middle East, had wanted to help the Iraqi people. The greatest tribute which can be paid to him - and others who have lost their lives in this unnecessary conflict - would be the bringing of peace and stability to the country. Unfortunately, that appears to be a long way away.