Cape Fear: The risingcrimewave on the Spanish Costas
Crime gangs are targeting expats on the Spanish Costas. One murder and a series of attacks have raised fears among expats that they are defenceless against a more ruthless breed of criminal. Ian Frewer reports.
Wilson Mills, 67, was only one, albeit one of the worst.
Expats fear rising crime on the Spanish Costas
They then stole a quantity of money, and fled. Mills was murdered in cold blood, a victim of a new and disturbing escalation of crime along the Spanish Costas.
A Guardia Civil officer in Murcia (who asked not be named, in accordance with standard practice) told us: "It never used to be like this, not until quite recently.
"We always had robbers, of course, and sometimes muggings, but this willingness to kill, this is new.
"They don’t even wear masks, or strike in the dead of night; now, they attack in broad daylight, and they routinely carry guns or knives. They’ll use them without a second’s hesitation."
But where are they from, this new breed of bandits?
"Not from Spain," our Guardia Civil officer told us, "That's for sure. Some are described as 'North African', others as just 'European'.
"They come here, they live in squats or rented flats, they steal a car, and literally just set out to hunt for likely targets."
Michael Halfacre, 69, originally from Oldham, in north England, now lives in Calpe, a quiet, prosperous area of the Costa Blanca.
"We thought we'd got away from it, up here," he told us.
"We didn't get anywhere near as much crime as further down the coast, but we were kidding ourselves.
Halfacre related how his wife was robbed.
"My wife had been shopping, went back to the car, put her bag on the front passenger's seat, and a man just opened the door and grabbed it.
"She chased round after him, and he didn't even try to run, just smashed her in the face with something, maybe a brick, we don't know, and then kicked her as she went down."
*quote1*Barbara Halfacre, 61, suffered a broken nose and severe bruising.
"That's it for us, we’re moving right away. We might even go to France," she told us, another one of an increasing band of disillusioned expatriates.
For the criminals, the lure is money, of course, and the illusion that expat retirees to the Costas are fabulously wealthy, police sources say.
Perhaps, to a North African ghetto-dweller, they are, but that is hardly the point.
In some cases, the other offenders are the East Europeans, who are better organised.
Guardia Civil sources say typically three or four of them will band together, acquire an old car, drive half-way across Europe and enter Spain legally as tourists.
Then they set out to mug, rob and burgle as much as they can in the shortest possible time, before heading back over the border, to safety.
They come, many of them, from areas where they have known violence for years.
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Like raiding Apaches in some old Wild West film, they come simply for plunder, and those they encounter are merely prey.
Whereas the North Africans, our Guardia Civil officer told us, tend to just mug people and burgle empty houses at night, the East Europeans are more sophisticated.
They have been known to obtain anaesthetic gas, and have the means to introduce it to a house.
They put a pipe through an open window, and then, when the inhabitants are unconscious, force an entrance and ransack the place.
David Ohrenstein, 58, lives in La Zenia, on the Orihuela Costa.
He simply awoke one morning, feeling tired and headachy, to find that his house had been thoroughly ransacked, everything of value taken.
"Thank God, my wife was in England when it happened," he said, "but we were both still very upset.
"I don't know what the gas was, but I'm told it was some kind of chemical,