Cyprus Mail

Protaras child ‘kidnap’ turns into U.K. media frenzy

Some involved apologised to the hotel staff

By Constantinos Psillides

BRITISH media reporting on the alleged attempted kidnapping of three youngsters at a Protaras hotel, “has been completely blown out of proportion and it’s all wrong,” an eyewitness has told the Cyprus Mail, as others now believe they “over-reacted” after hearing rumours and “Chinese whispers” that a child kidnap gang was in action.

The incident took place on Tuesday, when guests at a wedding party held at Anastasia hotel in Protaras attacked a Bulgarian man after they apparently thought he had been trying to kidnap their children. Subsequent press reports claimed the alleged abduction attempt had been the work of a gang that had been planning it for days.

Delivery driver from Glasgow James Hagan, 54, dismissed the reports and claimed some of the people involved acknowledged having gone “overboard and over-reacting”, and apologised to the hotel staff.

“There were lots of crazy stories about things that never happened,” he told the Cyprus Mail.

“There was definitely no kidnap attempt. Some of those involved told me later ‘we went overboard’. Some apologised to staff later, saying they over-reacted.”

Another tourist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while he wasn’t part of the wedding party that was taking place at the hotel at the time, he witnessed what happened firsthand.

“At some point we heard a large commotion and screams. Somebody attacked a young man yelling ‘Paedophile! Paedophile!’ and then suddenly a group of around 50 people were chasing him,” he said.

“We joined them and chased two people to the front desk, a man and a woman. Police came and took the young man in custody – a 19-year-old Bulgarian — but let the woman go because it turned out that she had nothing to do with the incident; she just happened to be there.”

“That’s what really happened, nothing more,” said the holidaymaker, adding that he was appalled after reading wildly exaggerated news reports on the story.

A Sheffield couple, who are friends with the man who chased and punched the Bulgarian, offered a similar account.

“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’.”

British media reported that a gang of three persons – two men and one woman, all Romanians – were filming kids and trying to lure them away to a pick-up truck, and that their attempt was foiled at the last minute by a passerby.

The third gang member supposedly left in a getaway car which crashed a short while after leaving the hotel.

“It was Chinese whispers, a lot of rumours,” another eyewitness said.

“[In the foyer, the Bulgarian] looked terrified, he was cowering. I didn’t see him get punched.”

It was also reported that the gang was 18-person strong and that the Romanians where stalking children throughout the week, posing as hotel waiters.

“We saw nothing suspicious all the time we were here and there’s absolutely no truth to the story some of these people were dressed up as waiters,” Hagan said.

“They said that child snatchers were posing as hotel staff. That’s completely ridiculous, I have no idea where they got that from,” the anonymous holidaymaker confirmed.

“I also noticed that some have been connecting this incident to the Madeleine case. That is both wrong and disrespectful,” stressed the holidaymaker, referring to the famous case of then three-year old Madeleine McCann who disappeared from her room while holidaying with her family in a holiday resort in Portugal in 2007.

“I really don’t think there’s a child-trafficking gang in the area, and it’s shameful for the Mirror to bring up Madeleine McCann,” another Briton said.

Tony Blackhurst, a 47-year-old self-employed butcher from Southport, in Cyprus with his wife and 9-year-old daughter, said that while he wasn’t sure what had happened, he and his family still enjoyed their stay.

“A lot of people were blaming the [hotel] staff and Thomas Cook for the security but I feel they were very good throughout and did everything they could,” he said.

“They were very helpful, offering to move families to different hotels if they wanted. They offered to put us in a five-star hotel, which is an upgrade – as this is a four-star. We didn’t want to move because my daughter’s made friends at the hotel and didn’t want to go. We’ve still enjoyed our stay.”

Meanwhile, a source close to the investigation told the Cyprus Mail that the parents of the 19-year old Bulgarian that was arrested are employed by the company that owns Anastasia Beach hotel, Tsokkos Hotels.

The 19-year old apparently spent a lot of time in the hotel, frequenting the pool area.

The source said that on the 19-year-old’s phone, police found four pictures, none of which depicted children.

“They were pictures of a hotel show. We went through the suspect’s phone, we searched his house thoroughly and found absolutely nothing to suggest that he was a paedophile or a kidnapper, or that he was part of a gang.”

Police have repeatedly rejected claims of child abduction.

The government also entered the fray, rejecting the reports as “unnecessary and unsubstantiated.”

“The government wishes to emphatically stress that Cyprus was and remains one of the safest tourist destinations worldwide, both for locals and foreign visitors and their children,” deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Cyprus High Commission in London issued a statement stressing that the police investigation into the allegations produced nothing incriminating.

The statement notes that the concerns of parents regarding the safety of their children are fully appreciated and that the allegations were taken seriously by the authorities in Cyprus.

It added that police statements taken from the British parents who filed the complaint, as well as from the children themselves did not corroborate the allegations.

Therefore, the High Commission describes the various press reports in the UK alleging a planned abduction of children as “unsubstantiated.”

“The news stories in the UK media do not reflect the facts, thus unfairly tarnishing the good reputation of Cyprus”, continued the statement.

(Additional reporting by special correspondent in Protaras)

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