As the Euro teeters yet again on the edge of complete collapse and Greece faces up to the possibility of economic Armageddon, the British press have been even more exercised about another issue in the Eastern Mediterranean: a Romanian paedophile ring operating in a Greek Cypriot hotel.
The suspected paedophile gang has apparently been preying on children staying at the Anastasia Beach Complex Hotel in Protaras.
Hard facts are difficult to disentangle amongst a vast amount of often contradictory reports, rumour and speculation. It probably doesn’t help that some of the guests at the hotel were enjoying a wedding party at 8.30 p.m. last Tuesday.
The Scottish Daily Record, quoted Greg Letford, a holidaymaker from Dundee:
“A Romanian couple were leading the two young children towards a waiting car, another person had a third child up against a wall ready to go, too.
“Someone spotted what they were up to and stopped them. If he hadn’t been there those kids would have gone.
“One of the men got away and we heard the getaway car crashed a short distance away too.
“When the police turned up, they took the man and woman into an office in the hotel and a crowd built up in the foyer – there must have been about 60 or 70 really angry people. It was chaos.
“The police got them into a van through a window for their protection. One of the hotel staff later told us they were Romanian and that one of them used to work at the hotel.”
Mr Letford’s account is supported to an extent by Sean McFarlane, a West Belfast man who said an attempt was made to snatch his son, who was playing with another child:
“a gang of suspected eastern-Europeans pulled the children off a wall where they were playing …. The group were talking to the children and tried to coax them into a nearby car which they had “ready to go” but other holidaymakers stepped in.”
He gave a more vivid account to the Daily Mirror:
“I turned my head for two seconds to get a coke and when I looked back the wee boys were at the side of a wall. There was a couple beside us and the young girl said she saw a fella walk in off the street.
“Her partner started shouting, ‘What are you doing with those kids, are you with those kids? The guy was shouting, ‘No, no, no.’
“My kid and the other lad took advantage of the opportunity and got up and ran. Thomas was shouting, ‘Daddy, daddy, that man pulled us on to the ground.’
“Another tourist had the guy. He told me, ‘that b****** had your son.’ I asked him why he touched my son. A crowd then grabbed him and pulled him into the lobby.”
The Daily Mail quoted a 30 year old former soldier and wind turbine engineer, James Down, who noticed a man by the hotel pool. Apparently the same man had earlier been “talking to children” on the beach. There were other suspicious signs:
“I was ex-army myself, massive combat indicators like abnormal stuff – he was wearing sunglasses, he didn’t have a wristband…”
The suspicious man asked Mr Down for a cigarette.
It’s not clear from the Mail’s report whether he gave him one. It seems quite possible that he did, because the man then slipped around a corner where Mr Down found him, cigarette in mouth, “talking to a child.” By this stage two other holidaymakers, one called Bill and the Ulsterman, Mr McFarlane, had turned up.
Seeing a man with a cigarette in his mouth talking to a child, Mr Down did what any Dad would do:
Naturally Mr Down (who has been described as a “hero dad” by the Daily Mirror) also “confiscated” the wretched man’s mobile phone and
In fact, when the phone was later looked at by the police they found nothing suspicious.
A Sheffield couple, said to be friends with “the man who chased and punched the Bulgarian” reported the story rather differently to the Cyprus Mail:
“My friend said this ‘gypsy’ had put his arms around his 7-year-old son in the pool earlier that afternoon,” the couple said.
“His wife shouted the man out, but later she saw him back in the foyer. [My friend] ran in and punched him a few times, hard, shouting ‘You had your arms around my kid in the pool’. He wasn’t shouting anything about kidnap gangs.
But then, the couple recalled, “loads of people rushed into the foyer, saying ‘that’s the paedo’.”
There were also “rumours” that the man had been “asking children up to his room.” Mr Down says he was “livid.” Strangely, however, his account does not mention children being led away to waiting vans, and nor does he seem to suggest that the man – the only man – apprehended was doing anything other than talking to a child.
Needless to say, there was a commotion of in the hotel foyer. A woman turned up to speak to the “suspect” but left when she saw the commotion. Whether or not she was part of a paedophile ring, one can see her point. A crowd of British tourists on a paedophile hunt, some of them perhaps lubricated by alcohol, is likely to be a pretty alarming sight. However, Mr Down ran after her and grabbed hold of her too. Apparently other vehicles in the street drove off. Mr Down believes they were “traffickers.” Some cars are said to have crashed in their eagerness to escape, although the police later said they had had no reports of any accidents. Guests are said to believe a gang of up to ten people had been “scoping” the hotel for at least the last week, disguised as waiters.
The police turned up to deal with the disturbance. It sounds as though there was an ugly scene. At one point, an officer is even said to have drawn his gun. According to a Cyprus Police spokesman the families “practically lynched the man.”
The two suspected traffickers were eventually put into a police van and driven away.
It is unclear what, if anything, happened to the woman. She does not seem to have been arrested. The man, who was arrested, turned out to be a 19 year old Bulgarian. His parents are said to be employees of the company running the hotel. According to the police:
“We questioned the suspect, went through his phone and also searched his home. Nothing we found suggests that he is part of a child-abducting gang or that he was stalking children. The footage on his phone showed tourists partying and no children.”
Commenters on the Daily Mail website have been quick to draw the appropriate conclusions. Readers, or at least those who are not distracted by the side panels showing “bra-less Lindsay Lohan “confidently flashing a side-boob” or Shanina Shaik “going topless as she flaunts her pert posterior” will be able to read the most popular comments:
Frightening….Any families going on holiday should be on their guard. Wherever they plan on going! No country is safe!
This is all down to free movement within the European union. Criminals can go anywhere unchecked. Time to get out of the EU.
This is the sex slave black market… where kids don’t get killed, but rather disappear and never show up again — only to wind up in places like Libya or some place in eastern Europe. Parents, WATCH YOUR KIDS.
It would be easy to think that a slight note of hysteria was creeping into the coverage, so it is fortunate that Britain’s best loved ex-detective Mark Williams Thomas has got on the case.
He took to Twitter:
@mwilliamsthomas: Very clear reports of attempted child abductions at a Cyprus hotel are denied by police & tour operator
@chris4msf: @mwilliamsthomas It makes me not trust the police, as for the tour operator – pah! Can you follow this up?
@mwilliamsthomas: @chris4msf am looking into it.
His first step was to appear on ITV on Friday morning, sitting alongside Mr Down, and making the suggestion that “someone who’s got some authority, who knows what they are talking about” should fly out to Cyprus to get to the bottom of what had happened. Who such a person might be we can only guess at. He – or, of course, she – might be an ex-detective with experience of investigating sexual offences against children; if he – or, of course, she – had media experience that would obviously be a considerable advantage, bearing in mind the press interest.
But even as Mr Williams-Thomas was pledging to take up the case, new revelations were coming out about the Anastasia Beach Complex, and an incident which until now had never been reported in the Press.
The Daily Mirror reported that last August a girl called Lillie, the two year old daughter of PE teacher Daniel Mann and his unnamed partner had narrowly avoided being kidnapped. Lillie went missing for 40 minutes. It must have been hideous for her distraught parents, but they eventually found her “in the arms of an Eastern European woman … walking towards a car park.” The woman said that she had found their daughter and was taking her to the hotel. By the time they had finished “checking over Lillie” (there is no suggestion that she had been harmed) the woman had disappeared. They asked the hotel management to call the police, but the manager fobbed them off, saying:
“You’ve got her back. That’s it”
For some reason the parents did not report the “kidnapping” until they got home when they complained to the Durham police. We don’t know what the Durham Police made of it, or indeed what they could reasonably be expected to do with no obvious crime and a stone cold trail in another jurisdiction. Possibly their view was that the Eastern European woman was more likely to have been a good Samaritan who had rescued a lost child than a paedophile monster engaged in an unsuccessful kidnap. Unlike commenters to the Daily Mail website it is unlikely that they counted the mere fact that she was “Eastern European” as evidence that she was a dangerous criminal.
Of course it would be unwise to rush to judgement about either this, or the latest incident before Mr Williams-Thomas, or some other equally wise and authoritative person, has had time to report. It is possible that he will uncover a Romanian paedophile ring. It would be naive to rely simply on the self-serving denials of the Cyprus police force and the hotel management, when Mr Williams-Thomas has hardly had time to begin his investigation.
Of course it is possible that if Mr Williams-Thomas, or another equally wise and authoritative person, ever gets to the bottom of what happened, it will turn out that what took place was not an attempted kidnapping but an assault on an innocent Bulgarian. We must wait and see.
At the moment I would say it is too early to cancel any bookings at the Anastasia Beach Complex, although if you happen to be of Romanian or other Eastern European appearance you may be concerned about a small risk that you will be lynched if you talk to a child, and a rather higher risk that you will be attacked if you touch one.
Despite the alleged presence of a large gang of paedophiles in the hotel, some disguised as waiters, no child has in fact been stolen or (as far as we know) abused in any way. This seems a point of some significance which has been largely overlooked.
One would have thought that if the paedo gang had been operating for some time, and particularly if it was already in place in August last year, it would have struck “successfully” by now. If it exists it must be competent enough to evade detection by the hotel management and police, yet too incompetent to succeed in its primary objective of stealing children. After all that preparation the attempted kidnap, if that it was it was, has been utterly botched.
The only suspected paedophile apprehended was grabbed – according to Mr Down who caught him – by the scruff of the neck for speaking to a child while smoking a cigarette, which he may have just cadged off Mr Down. That seems a slim basis on which to conclude that he was part of a paedophile ring, even if he was also wearing sunglasses. Apart from anything else, it seems very unlikely that a kidnapper about to snatch a child would immediately beforehand ask for a cigarette off somebody who would then be bound to be a possible identification witness.
Moreover, dressing up as waiters and hanging around the hotel for weeks or months before trying to steal a child does seem a bizarre way to organise a paedophile kidnapping ring. It would be hard to conceive of a better way to attract attention, not necessarily from the tourists but certainly from the real waiters who would surely find the presence of ten Romanian waiter-impersonators quite extraordinary and inexplicable. We don’t know whether the hotel is equipped with CCTV: but we do know, as any paedophile ring organiser would also know, that holiday-makers are constantly snapping away with their cameras and i-phones. A lurking child snatcher would know he or she was at particularly high risk of being filmed or photographed, if only incidentally, during those weeks or months.
Children are very occasionally kidnapped, raped and murdered, in Cyprus as in England or any other country. Even more rarely – Myra Hindley and Ian Brady spring to mind – deranged psychopaths co-operate in such crimes. But organised paedophile rings kidnapping young children are vanishingly rare. Of course it does not mean that they could not exist. It does mean that we should be sceptical, and we should be especially wary of creating or stoking unjustified fears of people of different ethnicities or nationalities.
At present there seems virtually no evidence of a paedophile gang and a vast amount of speculation.
Unfortunately, such speculation is not always victimless. The least important, but still unfair, consequence is that hotel may lose business as a result. The management have been vigorously defending their establishment, and probably the storm will soon blow over without long term damage to its reputation.
Families holidaying with their children will relax a little bit less, and wrap their children in bubble-wrap just a little bit more than necessary as a result of the story.
But there is also a more lasting and insidious damage when stories like this are whipped up on the flimsiest of evidence. There are perfectly respectable reasons for wanting to control immigration, but protecting our children from rape and kidnap by Romanians is not one of them. As the Daily Mail comments show, stories like this help to fuel the belief that eastern Europe in general, and Romania in particular, is populated by criminals of a particularly nasty sort, and that if we do not throw them out, or at least prevent more of them coming to Britain, our children will not be safe.
That, of course, is unusually pernicious nonsense.
Fortunately Mr Williams-Thomas is on the case. We all look forward to hearing his findings.