NEWS FROM AROUND THE REGION

with Madeleine McMullin

Court drama over attempted kidnapping

On 5th Feb 2016 in Claira, a man woken by his dog growling, found two hooded men who threatened him with a hand gun, then hit him in the stomach with a taser.  They told him that they were after his daughter before beating him up and then going for his wife.  The 17 year old daughter managed to escape through a window and raise the alarm.  The police came immediately and grabbed the two men and a woman, who was waiting near the tip in Claira with an arsenal in the car: a pellet gun, 2 tasers, an axe, a baseball bat, a retractable truncheon…  The man explained that he had had an affair with the woman who was from Barcelona, and then they had become business partners to sell her stock of furniture.  “She thought she’d been swindled and said that she would kidnap and kill my daughter if I didn’t give her €600,000.”  The man had then moved back to France and had made several complaints to the police about people hanging around his house as if to case it.

The two thugs, also behind bars, confirmed that it was her who had sent them and that she had pleaded with them in tears to go back when they had returned empty handed.

The counsel for the defence claimed that the prosecution version was totally wrong and that the man was a notorious conman who had fled Spain to avoid being tried.  Her client agreed “We had a relationship in 2014.  I gave him the furniture stock from my shop and €60,000 that I’d borrowed from my neighbour.  I didn’t know that he was married till later.  I was threatened by him and his wife.  Since then they’ve been making fun of me saying that they’re going on holiday with my money, and to get it back I just have to become a whore!”

Anonymous letters threaten local festivals

A man arrested on the 19th July sent an anonymous letter to the town hall in Canet, talking about planned attacks on festivals and fetes organised by the town during the summer and saying that there would be reprisals if the town hall did not cancel them.  The director of Frontera Production, which organised Platja Electronic and Deferlantes had also received a letter ordering the cancellation of the concerts at Campo Santo in Perpignan, and explicitly threatening him, his wife and 4 of his employees.  Next a letter arrived at the town hall in Argelès saying that there was a terrorist threat to all events in the P-O and finally a letter was sent to the Independant strongly advising the editors to publish a message to avoid nasty surprises in the next few days.  The police were able to identify the suspect as none other than an ex-employee of Frontera Production.

He is 35 years old and lives in Villelongue de la Salanque.  The police raided his house at dawn and took his IT equipment and printer.  He refused to speak at first but eventually confessed faced with the evidence against him.  He had worked for the company from 2012 – 2014 and had a grudge against his ex-boss.  Nevertheless he had no intention of actually carrying out any attacks and is not considered dangerous following psychiatric testing.  He is currently under strict judicial control awaiting his trial on 25th August.

3 soldiers dead in Libya based in P-O

The 3 soldiers who were killed in a helicopter accident in Libya are said to have belonged to the Special Instruction Paratroop Centre (CPIS) based in the Palais de Roi de Majorque in Perpignan.  France is carrying out dangerous scouting operations in the country according to François Hollande.  According to information obtained by the Independant at least one of them lived in the P-O.  The CPIS which supplies troops to the DGSE (external intelligence service), intervenes in various theatres of operation and lost a man in Somalia recently in a mission to free hostages from Al Shabaab.

Top secret visit by spies to Perpignan

Two Falcon planes in the French Republic’s livery landed at Perpignan airport on Monday 25th July.  The occupants got into cars with dark windows and were driven away under tight security.  It is understood that they were from the Ministry of the Interior, particularly the secret service and were attending the funeral of the 3 soldiers who were killed in a helicopter accident in Libya.  The MInistry of Defence said that they could neither confirm nor deny the rumours.

Tree hits house in Bourg Madame

A large spruce came down on top of a house in Bourg Madame on 20th July and required about 10 firemen to move it.  There were no injuries but the house was badly damaged.

Appeal for vigilance over fire risk

The prefect has appealed to the population of the P-O to take care not to start fires.  With the Tramontane forecast to blow the whole of the weekend of 22nd – 24th July and the large number of people on the move, fires can easily be started by a spark from a barbecue or a cigarette butt thrown from a car.  The penalties for starting a fire voluntarily are 10 years in prison and a fine of €150,000, for doing so by accident are 1 year in prison and €15,000 fine.

Canet fireworks cancelled

A message on the town hall website said that the fireworks planned for Friday 22nd July had been cancelled because of the present situation.  The “Crevettes Musclées” concert will still go ahead as planned.  The Jeudi de Perpignan on the 21st also went ahead although the performances on the Allée Maillol were cancelled.

Reintroduction of bears still in dispute

20 years on from the release of Ziva, Melba and Pyros in the Hautes Garonne, opponents are still trying to get the programme stopped for good whilst supporters are wanting more to be released.  The last indigenous bear was killed in 2004 by a hunter, but 5 bears were released in the Haute Garonne, the Hautes Pyrénées and Arbas.  There are now 29 bears in the French Pyrenees plus 7 cubs borne in 2016 which still need to be officially recognised.  There is also a bear that was released in Spain in June which regularly crosses into France.  However the numbers are still not enough to ensure the continuity of the species.  The Comité du Massif (committee for the mountain range) met in Toulouse in early July to discuss whether to continue with the releases or to stop the programme.  The vote was tied but there is a lot of anger and debate on both sides, with those against saying that it was impossible to farm sheep in the areas where there were bears and the “pros” saying that the reintroduction is part of the European programme.  Ségolène Royal, the minister for the environment is due to rule on whether the releases will continue or not.  She has already angered the “pros” by refusing any release in 2014 and pushing it back a year in 2015 to allow for research.

42 years requested for forcing young girls into prostitution

A gang of 11 which forced young girls brought from Bulgaria with promises of jobs, to work as prostitutes on the N11 between Figueres and Girona is currently being tried in Girona.  They kept the girls’ papers and made them work up to 12 hours per day.  One 17 year old was brought across supposedly to work in a café.  The prosecution is asking for a sentence of 42 years in prison.

Hit & run in Maureillas

At 3 in the morning on Sat 23rd, a car hit 3 pedestrians who were walking out of Maureillas on the D13 towards St Jean.  One of the 3, a man aged 34 from Marseille, was killed and a young woman was lightly injured.  The 3rd person, a man aged 24 escaped without injuries.  The circumstances of the accident are a bit vague but the driver of the car did not stop.  The police later arrested a drunk driver in Argelès whose car showed signs of a frontal collision but at the moment there is nothing to link the 2 incidents.

False Black Widow spider found in Ria Sirach

A pest control company from Rivesaltes was in Ria Sirach to get rid of insects when the director, Patrick Salvat noticed an unusual spider’s web and went to investigate.  Mr. Salvat is an arachnophile, but he’d never seen a spider like it.  He took some photos and went home to look it up on the internet.  The False Black Widow comes from Madeira and the Canary Islands and is now spreading to various countries in Europe, particularly the UK, specifically London where it was found more than 50 times in the capital and in Kent just in the month of September last year.  It is considered one of the most poisonous in Britain.  However its bite is not deadly although if not treated can lead to amputations, as was the case for one lady in England.  The spider is about 20 – 30mm long, with long golden orange legs and a dark abdomen with a lighter bit on top which resembles a skull.  It comes out at night and will come indoors when the temperature drops.  Only the female bites and only if threatened or disturbed.  Mr. Salvat was intending to contact the ARS (Regional Health Agency) to report its presence.

No attack plans in the P-O

The Prefect, Philippe Vignes, has assured the public that there is no defined threat in the P-O.  However after the Nice attacks, an extra layer of security is being put in place.  The risk is for the country as a whole, and 14th July fireworks that had been postponed are putting extra pressure on the security forces because there is already a heavy programme of festivities planned.  The rumours of a real threat are imaginary according to the mayor of St Cyprien.  There were 3 men arrested because they were taking pictures on the sea front on the morning of 14th July but it was a false alarm.  The prefect continued that they are obviously on the alert to any potential threats, so if the public see any activity that they think suspicious they should report it to the gendarmerie.  The gendarme reserves have been called up and there are currently 280 reserves in the department which will increase to 300 and then 320.

Despite the reassurance, the list of fireworks displays that are being cancelled is growing as local authorities say that they cannot guarantee the safety of spectators.  1001 Etoiles, the local fireworks distributor is facing ruin as town hall after town hall cancels the displays and it is also affecting local businesses who rely on the fireworks to attract the crowds.  The owner of 1001 Etoiles cannot understand why the communes in Roussillon are panicking so badly when elsewhere in the country, including Aude and Herault the displays are going ahead.

François Hollande in Perpignan

The president will be in Perpignan on 28th July to officially open the widening of the A9 from 2 lanes to 3 between Perpignan and Le Boulou.  The work cost €200 million and took 10 years.

Unlicensed driver causes havoc

On Saturday 24th July an unlicensed driver who failed to stop at a barrier in St Laurent de la Salanque  where police were carrying out routine checks, then drove the wrong way down a number of one way streets hitting a lot of parked cars on the way.  The driver crashed in to a wall after about 20 minutes of being chased but was unharmed and was placed in police custody.

Ibrahim Maalouf apologises for missing concert

The trumpeter was supposed to headline at Campo at Perpignan on 23rd July, but his flight was cancelled and he couldn’t make it.  Fans were obviously very disappointed as he is highly acclaimed and are hoping that he will be back in the area soon.

Repeated accidents canyoning

On Saturday 24th July a walker on holiday in the P-O slipped and twisted his ankle in the canyon of Baoussous.  He was helicoptered out and taken to Perpignan hospital.  Later the same afternoon in Estoher, the CRS were called to an accident in the Llech canyon where a man taking part in a canyoning group led by a professional had dislocated his shoulder jumping 9m from the highest part of the course.  He was also helicoptered to hospital.

Illegal kennels with maltreated dogs

A helicopter from the Montpellier gendarmerie was flying over Rivesaltes in May when they noticed some newly installed kennels in an isolated property.  There were 11 enclosures with dogs in them, some of them without a roof and with no way of sheltering from the sun.  One of the dogs was lying on its side and did not react to the helicopter hovering over it.  The gendarmes applied to the courts for a warrant and returned with 3 vets.  They discovered the dogs extremely thin and living amid their own excrement.  There were German shepherds, huskies and dogues de Bordeaux: 14 dogs and 2 puppies in total which were taken to 3 dog homes in the area.  All are up for adoption.  The property owner said that he did not know that the kennels existed as he had allowed a friend to use the property.  Investigations revealed that the friend was selling puppies as far afield as Charente, Hautes Pyrénées and the Var for sums between €800 and €2000.  The pups were not registered with the LOF (French Kennel Club), his kennels had not been declared to the town hall, or to the DDSV which is supposed to be notified of all animal movements.  And on top of all this, he had been convicted of maltreating 8 dogs, sheep, donkeys and a goat in St Hippolyte in 2015 and banned for life from keeping animals.  He had appealed the conviction.  The case will come before the court on 17 August.  The SPA (French RSPCA) will be party to the trial, and he will also have to answer to the various authorities among them the tax office and the CAF (family allowance agency) for having received the RSA (income support) whilst working and for failing to get a building permit.

Man with pistol shouting long live Daesh

On Saturday a man had an argument with the staff of a Le Barcarès restaurant.  The staff were eating before the start of the evening service when a man came past and started shouting at them.  The maitre d’ asked “Is he mad?” and the man got even more irritated.  The employee then got up and pushed him.  He left and came back a few minutes later with a gun which he aimed at the staff and clients.  Witnesses said that he shouted “I’m going to kill you, French people, put a bullet in your head.  Long Live Daesh.”  He then left without shooting.  He did not resist arrest when police arrived at his house shortly afterwards and was in court on Tuesday, where he denied having made any reference to the terrorist group.  He said he had been sworn at by the staff and had come back to scare them with a pellet gun which was not even loaded.  He said that he had been Christian, then Buddhist and had recently converted to moderate Islam.  “I am a French citizen but my country disgusts me as it never gives me justice.  But it hurts me whenever I hear of a terrorist attack.”  The prosecution asked for 4 years with 18 months of it suspended, but the defence pleaded for clemency given the psychiatric reports which called his actions a plea for help.  The court handed down a sentence of 30 months in prison with no parole, 5 years ban from entering Le Barcarès and 5 years loss of his civil rights.

Madeleine McMullin lives in Palalda from where she runs her marketing business Marketing66.  She has worked both in the UK and abroad, with big brand names in the interiors and design industries such as Wedgwood, Denby, Sebastian Conran, Laura Ashley, Hemingway Design……..

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