By Constantinos Psillides
Tour operator Thomas Cook said on Thursday it had moved 16 customer bookings, or around 50 people, to another hotel and had assisted two families to return early to the UK after a furore over an alleged near abduction of three children at a Protaras hotel on Tuesday.
After investigations, police denied any such incident had taken place, and though they brought one man in for questioning for allegedly filming children in and around the hotel, nothing incriminating was found on his phone or at his home that suggested he belonged a child abduction ring as claimed by a number of tourists at the hotel.
Although earlier in the day Thomas Cook rushed to reassure its clients and offered to relocate them, in a later announcement on Thursday, the company said it was working closely with the Anastasia Beach Hotel, and local authorities.
“Although there are conflicting reports as to what exactly occurred at the property, we would like to reassure all customers that we take all allegations incredibly seriously and we are continuing to work closely with our customers in resort and the local authorities,” the Thomas Cook statement said.
On request, the company assisted 16 customer bookings who wished to move to an alternative hotel and two families who travelled back to the UK early. But the company said it continued to offer holidays to the Anastasia, though it had requested increased security. “Thomas Cook continues to offer holidays to the Anastasia Beach and the island of Cyprus, where customers are continuing to enjoy their holidays with us,” the company said.
Police on Thursday denied the attempted kidnap of three young children from the hotel as British newspapers hyped up the story with headlines as ‘Holiday Hell’.
British press reported that on Tuesday night a gang of three Romanians tried to lure three children into vans. They reported that the gang were disguised as hotel waiters to blend in and that they had been stalking children for the past week by filming them around the pool, and taking pictures.
The reports says that their plan was foiled at the last minute by a tourist who saw the three gang members escorting the children to a van while another child was ready to be abducted.
Realising what was going on, the tourists seized a man and a woman and took them to the hotel’s foyer where they called police. The report says that a second man fled the scene and that the holidaymakers heard a car crash not far from the hotel.
A statement from the Anastasia Beach Hotel said one of the guests on 16 June, around 8.30pm informed reception that a non resident was filming and taking pictures around the adult entertainment area. Hotel security went to the location and escorted the man to the hotel manager’s office and police were called.
Police deputy spokesperson Nikoletta Tyrimou told the Cyprus Mail that the incident had been blown completely out of proportion.
“We have been receiving calls all day. I do not know how many ways more I can find to say this: It did not happen that way,” stressed Tyrimou, clarifying that police made one not two arrests and that there was no getaway car or people in disguise stalking children.
“Famagusta district police were indeed notified on Tuesday of an incident that took place at the Anastasia Hotel. Upon arriving at the scene, police officers arrested a 19-year-old man from Bulgaria who holidaymakers said had been filming their children and was trying to abduct them.
“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.
He has since been released while police take statements from all those present at the scene. The investigation is still ongoing but I assure you that it did not happen the way it was reported in the press,” she said.
A second statement issued by the Police Press and Information office later, said the tour operator contacted the police following the arrest of the 19-year-old and asked for a police presence in the hotel.
“Police did return to the scene and talked with the tourists but not find anything that confirmed their initial suspicions. Both the tour operator and the British High Commission offices on the island were notified of the process and the investigation findings and expressed their full satisfaction with the handling of the incident by the police,” said the second statement.
“The only shots on the video were exclusively adult persons and in no way depicted children,” the statement said.