People criticising Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for hitting out at the Government have got it “so wrong”, said one of the former foreign secretaries who failed to secure her release from Iran.

Jeremy Hunt, who was foreign secretary between July 2018 and July 2019, has jumped to the defence of British-Iranian Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was returned to the UK last week after six years in detention in Iran.

At a press conference on Monday, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said it had taken too long for the Government to pay a £400 million debt to Iran, which helped secure her release.

She said although she could not be happier to be home, “this should have happened six years ago”.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe during a press conference hosted by their local MP Tulip Siddiq (right), in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

But she has faced a backlash online with commentators suggesting she should instead be grateful or that she was somehow at fault.

Mr Hunt said on Twitter: “Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation.

“She’s absolutely right that it took too long to bring her home. I tried my best – as did other foreign secretaries – but if trying our best took six years then we must be honest and say the problem should have been solved earlier.”

Mr Hunt said the turnover of ministers in the role and a reluctance to pay the debt, which dated back to the 1970s, may have been a factor. He said the Government did not want to appear to be paying ransom money.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “I think there was a lot of reluctance when I arrived as foreign secretary because of a sense that it might be seen as a ransom. We don’t pay ransoms because it encourages more hostage-taking. But this is not a ransom, it is a debt.”

Mr Hunt said: “That decision that we should pay it in principle was taken when I was foreign secretary. But then the practicalities of paying it when Iran is a sanctioned regime meant that it still took a long time to sort out.”

The MP said he did everything he could while he was foreign secretary, but added: “It took too long. That is the honest truth.”

Mr Hunt said: “Whilst it was an extraordinary achievement by Liz Truss and the Foreign Office to negotiate Nazanin and Anoosheh Ashoori’s release – and indeed Boris Johnson deserves some credit for the fact that he authorised the payment of the debt, which hadn’t happened previously and that kind of decision has to come right from the top – but it took six years and that is too long. We have to ask ourselves whether we could have done it more quickly.”

He added: “I think we do need some kind of independent inquiry into this. I would welcome the Foreign Affairs Select Committee doing it.”

On the criticism being levelled, he said on Twitter: “This kind of open scrutiny as to whether we could do things better is what happens in democratic, open societies. It may be something they don’t welcome in places like Iran and Russia but it is why, ultimately, we are wiser and stronger.”

Speaking on Monday, referencing her husband thanking the Government a few moments earlier, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “I do not really agree with him on that level.”

The 43-year-old said she had seen five foreign secretaries over the course of six years, adding: “That is unprecedented given the politics of the UK. I love you Richard, respect whatever you believe, but I was told many, many times that, ‘Oh we’re going to get you home.’

“That never happened.”

She said this resulted in her finding it difficult to place trust in them, adding: “I mean, how many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home? Five?”

Asked if she feels angry with the Government that it took so long to get her home, she said: “I think the answer is clear. I cannot be happier than this, that I’m here.

“But also, this should have happened six years ago.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe told reporters: “I’m not going to live for the rest of my life with a grudge over the past six years.”

She said what happened to her was “cruel”, adding: “This moment is so glorious for me.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained
Tulip Siddiq celebrates meeting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (right) for the first time in person (Tulip Siddiq/PA)

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said it took a “very, very long time” for politicians to sort it out.

Mr Hunt’s backing for an “independent investigation” comes after the call for a probe was made by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, Tulip Siddiq.

MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, Ms Siddiq, has called on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to investigate.

She said she owes it to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to ask questions about why the debt was not paid for “so long”.

“So, I’ve written to Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, to ask for a review into what happened in Nazanin’s case,” she said.