Wish you were here? Perhaps not

Over three thousand Britons have died while travelling abroad since 1994. When foul play is involved, their families can face massive indifference from the authorities if they try to find the culprits. No one wants trouble in a tourist paradise
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The Independent Culture
There is no need to be alarmed," Cornelius Smith assured would- be visitors to the Bahamas this week. The Minister for Tourism was not going to allow the mere presence of a serial killer, who has attacked and strangled at least two female holiday-makers, to tarnish the islands' reputation as a luxurious and crime-free destination.

One of the killer's victims was Joanne Clarke, a 24-year-old British primary school teacher of children with special needs. Her body was found in bushes behind the palm-fringed Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island. Joanne had travelled to the Bahamas for a three-week holiday, staying with a friend who is a nanny for a British family living in the capital, Nassau.

The discovery last weekend of her body and the decomposing remains of another woman - thought to be Lori Fogleman, a 32-year-old American teacher - came on the anniversary of the murder of another British woman, Carole Leach, also a teacher, who had been living on the neighbouring island of Eleuthera. The killer has never been caught.

As greater numbers of British travellers seek out ever more distant and exotic holiday destinations, so more of them are dying in suspicious or mysterious circumstances. But in many under-resourced nations that are becoming dependent on the tourist dollar, there is a reluctance to pursue high-profile investigations that generate publicity that could ruin the local economy. One senior British police source says: "In many Third World countries they only bother with an investigation if it's someone important. They don't do house-to-house inquiries; they don't have the same standards of scene-of-crime investigations [as we do] and they rarely interview witnesses properly."

In Britain last year, 91 per cent of all murder and manslaughter cases were cleared up within a year. But many families of people killed overseas have found that they have had to put great pressure on police simply to keep the investigations alive.

John Dickinson, whose daughter Caroline was murdered in France two years ago, was infuriated by the way the French police set about the investigation. The investigating magistrate refused even to speak to him. "It concerned me greatly that he couldn't spend five minutes of his time to meet the father of a murdered schoolgirl," he recalls.

Yesterday, in Kenya, a man was finally due in court accused of murdering the British tourist Julie Ward, who was murdered while travelling in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Her millionaire father, John Ward, has waged a 10-year campaign to bring the killers to justice.

Figures released by the Foreign Office yesterday show that an alarmingly high number of Britons die while travelling overseas. Since 1994, 289 British citizens have died in Thailand, 192 in India, 48 in Indonesia, 24 in Nepal. There have been 415 British deaths in Greece, 233 in Turkey, 378 in France and 1,607 in Spain.

THEY FOUND Peter Norton lying in a school yard underneath a tree. He had arrived in Bali only the day before, in search of a couple of weeks' surfing before going back to his studies.

Now he is dead, and no one knows why. The local police do not seem to be concerned.

If anyone were ever properly prepared for the hidden risks of foreign travel, it was Peter Norton. Though only a month past his 21st birthday, he was the veteran of a 12-month round-the-world adventure only two years previously. He was also blessed with exceptional maturity, a gentle, non- confrontational nature and a genuine love of other cultures.

Peter had travelled to the Indonesian island with his friend Jonathan, a 28-year-old dentist whom he had met in Australia. The fortnight's trip was to set him up for a term studying in France as part of his International Business Studies degree. His mother, Mary, remembers: "He was full of enthusiasm. After his world trip we thought this would just be two weeks' holiday."

The two young men arrived in Bali on a Sunday afternoon in February last year and decided to spend their first evening at the Bounty Bar, a popular meeting-place for young international travellers. Shortly after 2am, Jonathan came off the club's dance floor and looked for his friend. Peter was nowhere to be seen, but since he was the sort of person who makes friends easily, Jonathan returned to their hotel confident that he was in no danger.

For the next two days Jonathan searched for Peter, calling at the addresses of friends who were also staying in Bali. By Wednesday morning he had become deeply concerned, and called at the police station to report a missing person. He was met with indifference, and given a lost luggage form. It was only on his third visit to the station that Jonathan was told, as an afterthought, that a young tourist had been found, apparently drunk, two days earlier. He had been taken to hospital.

Mrs Norton says: "Jonathan thought Peter was going to be sitting on the bed saying: `How long does it take you, Jonathan?' He found him in intensive care, on a ventilator. The police had given him no idea of the seriousness of the situation."

Peter had a deep wound at the back of his skull, two inches across, as if he had been hit with a piece of pipe.

The medical staff tried to convince Jonathan that his friend had been in a traffic accident.

Things moved quickly after the British consul, Jean Harrod, became involved. Peter was taken by helicopter to Singapore and his parents were notified. Mary, a Bedfordshire midwife, and her husband David, a quantity surveyor, flew to their son's bedside.

Despite the best efforts of the hospital staff Peter died, a week after he had been found in the school yard. He never regained consciousness to explain how his injuries had been caused.

The Foreign Office asked the Indonesian authorities for a "full and thorough" investigation, but Mary and David Norton are still none the wiser. "We wanted to keep it high-profile but I think tourism is all they have got," she says.

So she may never know how Peter's body was lifted over the high school walls and carefully placed in the shade of the tree. Nor is she likely to learn how he came by the gash at the back of his head.

A Singapore inquest recorded an open verdict. Last month, at a second hearing, Luton coroners made the same finding.

Peter had not been drunk. Nor was he the type to go climbing trees or walls in the dark.

Mrs Norton says: "I could imagine him walking on to the beach to take in the atmosphere. But he was aware. He was sensible. There has never been any indication of the cause of the head injury."

WHEN EDGAR Fernandes, a London librarian, went missing last April, a day after arriving in Turkey for a week's holiday, the authorities in Istanbul suggested to his family that he might have found himself a girlfriend.

His exasperated relatives eventually flew to Istanbul themselves and tracked down his unidentified body in a morgue. He had been beaten and robbed of his wallet and British passport, then thrown into the Bosporus.

His sister Jenny says that even after the body was found, it was the Fernandes family who had to carry out the search for the killer.

The family managed to use Edgar's credit card statements to trace a man who has now been arrested in Malta, and charged with credit card fraud and use of a false passport.

Following pressure from the family, and from the MP Keith Vaz, the Turkish authorities are seeking to extradite this man as a suspect in Edgar's murder.

Mr Vaz believes that British citizens, especially those from Asian communities, are being targeted for their passports by criminals involved in organised illegal immigration.

The families of those killed abroad advise all young travellers to make sure that they carry identification on their person at all times, so that consulates and families can be contacted if they are found injured.

Many young travellers choose not to take out travel insurance because they are carrying little of value - without realising that they could require very expensive hospital treatment if they were to be attacked.

"I don't think British tourists are aware of the dangers," says Jenny Fernandes. "They do not realise that if they are attacked or murdered there is very little that those authorities will do - or that the British government will do."