Ayia Napa is making headlines this summer after a mafia hit and a fatal stabbing, but tourists say they feel safe as similar incidents can happen in most European towns of similar size, particularly on weekends.
But those working in the tourist industry said they would welcome a more visible police presence, more extensive CCTV coverage – and a ban on souvenir shops selling “lethal weapons” such as combat knives, knuckle-dusters and machetes.
“You haven’t seen Manchester on a Saturday night, mate,” said Brendon O’Brien, 26, nursing his hangover with a coffee and an English breakfast.
“This place is tame compared with back home,” agreed his fellow Mancunian friend Peter Malloy, also 26, sipping on his first beer of the day.
The British tourists were commenting after last Sunday’s fatal stabbing of George Low, 22, an estate agent from Dartford, Kent, who was attacked by two men armed with knives in Grigori Afxentiou Street in Ayia Napa. His friend Ben Joseph Robert Parker, who was also stabbed in the attack, is still being treated at a clinic.
Two men, Mehmet Akpinar, 22, and Ahmed Salih, 43, wanted by the police in connection with the attack were brought before a Turkish Cypriot court in Nicosia on Saturday and remanded for three days after being arrested in Kyrenia.
They appeared, not in connection with the murder, but their illegal violation of a military area during their escape to the north, using a route not through an official checkpoint.
Akpinar’s girlfriend Koulla Anastasiou, 48, who admitted to helping him after the crime is currently in custody having being remanded by Famagusta court.
Ayia Napa was also the setting for the gangland shooting on June 23 of businessman Phanos Kalopsidiotis who was killed along with three others while eating in an Ayia Napa restaurant.
It took a few days for Jeff and Mary Palmer from Kent to learn about Sunday’s murder through the internet.
“We don’t see much of that side of life,” said Mary, referring to Ayia Napa’s nightlife. “We’re on an all-inclusive for two weeks and hardly leave the resort. We’re out for lunch today for a change.”
Annette Johansson, 24, holidaying with her three-year-old son, who was soaking up the sun on the sands of Nissi beach said: “Cyprus is where I’ve always spent my summers. I heard about what happened but it won’t stop me coming. I believe it could have happened anywhere. These things happen.”
John Jones, 31, a barman who works in the same road where Low was murdered has worked in Ayia Napa for the last six years.
“A decent strip with not much trouble,” was Jones’ description of the long winding road full of bars.
“You get the odd scuffle with people pushing and shoving, but we know how to handle them. Trouble is usually defused pretty fast,” he said.
Andy Brent, 28, who has worked on the strip at nights for the past two seasons said he has witnessed a handful of fights over the past few months, usually involving people who have drunk too much or had a misunderstanding over a woman.
But he said he was surprised over the lack of a police presence following the stabbing.
“I have not seen any police apart from those sent immediately after the incident. I expected there to be a heavier presence.”
But although he feels Ayia Napa is a safe place despite the packed clubs and large amounts of alcohol consumed by holidaymakers unused to the resort’s sweltering heat, he said the police could be doing more to ensure security.
He was particularly concerned by the souvenir shops selling what he called lethal weapons, at all hours of the night. He even went as far as to suggest that the ease with which such items could be procured may have contributed to the stabbings. Police say they had no information that the knives used in the stabbings were acquired in such a shop.
“You can’t have these shops selling machetes for ten euros at nights. What business does a souvenir shop have selling knives, knuckle dusters, taser guns and clubs to tourists? They can’t take them home,” said Brent.
For Jones, another concern is that the availability of these weapons could lead to some type of terrorist attack.
“With everything going on in the world at the moment,” he said, “it would be easy for someone who hates British people to harm them. They could get tooled up at a shop down the road.”
Both barmen said they would welcome more police on the beat during the packed Napa nights and early mornings and extra CCTVs along the strip.
“People not only need to be kept safe but also feel secure,” said Brent.
Famagusta deputy police chief George Economou agreed more CCTV would enhance the feeling of safety in the area but said police’s hands were tied. Contrary to the UK, the Cypriot force did not have the legal framework to allow the setting up of cameras, but did cooperate with premises who had installed them, he said.
“Owners of pubs and clubs in the area are very helpful when it comes to our investigating crimes and many of our successes are partly due to having access to footage from cameras on their premises.”
He said there was a clear line regarding private security at pubs and clubs.
“The private security people know very well the limitations on them when it comes to carrying out their work,” he said. “If there is a troublemaker in a club, for example, they have the right to throw him out but can’t punch or kick them as they may lose their licence. Normally they call us if someone continues outside being violent or damaging property, and that’s where we step in.”
According to Economou the number of police boots on the ground increases dramatically during the holiday period when the party town wakes up from the sleepy, empty winter months.
Around 20 officers are stationed at Ayia Napa police station until the end of June with ten rapid reaction MMAD force members from headquarters coming in the evenings to protect and patrol the area and prevent crimes. In July, this number increases to 30 at the station, plus 10-12 MMAD officers from headquarters and ten extra men for other duties.
“On top of this we have an increase in traffic patrols to control and check on drink driving and other matters relating to vehicles and driving,” said Economou
One of Brent’s main complaints about policing in Ayia Napa was that it seemed to focus on relatively minor infractions such as handing out fines to moped drivers, loud establishments and touts, and busting nitrous oxide sellers, instead of patrolling the busy areas and providing a sense of security.
“You only see the PR police (for booking touts), the music police (to book premises for playing music after hours), the helmet police and the military police from the bases for the Brit soldiers,” he said.
But Economou said the Ayia Napa police force took the patrolling side of their work very seriously.
“We carry out foot patrols on the main road to the harbour and along Nissi avenue from 8 till 12pm, and from 12 till 5am we walk in the main square and along the roads of Ayia Mavri and the surrounding area where the majority of the pubs and clubs are situated. On top of this we have MMAD patrolling as well,” he said.
Certainly, fear of violence is not on the minds of most tourists. When the Palmers from Kent were asked whether they felt safe in Ayia Napa, Jeff’s response was immediate.
“Of course. Why, shouldn’t we?”