Briton shot in Barbados

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POLICE IN Barbados were trying to quell the fears of tourists last night after a British woman narrowly escaped death when she was shot through the heart in an armed robbery on a hotel bar.

Paula Bridges, a care worker from Suffolk, was sitting with her partner, John Martin, in the Palm Garden Hotel in Worthing, southern Barbados, when she was hit by what police say was a stray bullet.

Officers have launched a round-the-clock hunt for the culprits but say the shooting was accidental, in direct contradiction to Mr Martin's claim that his partner was shot when she refused to hand over her rings.

Ms Bridges, 41, has yet to regain consciousness after a two-hour life- saving operation to stabilise her heart and remove the bullet from her stomach, where it had lodged after passing through her heart. Doctors at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in the capital, Bridgetown, said last night she was still on a ventilator and in a "critical but stable" condition. "She is very lucky to be alive," said Lowell Lewis, a consultant surgeon. "We haven't been able to assess her neurological condition fully but we are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best."

Mr Martin, a 42-year-old engineer who lives with Ms Bridges in Southwold, praised tourists and locals for responding to an emergency appeal for blood donors when his partner was in danger of haemorrhaging to death after the shooting on Thursday night.

"Everyone here is devastated but she has been very well looked after. I think people should know how good this whole country has been about what has happened," said Mr Martin. However, he insisted that one of the men had put a gun to his head and fired at Ms Bridges from a foot away.

Police said the gunmen had already robbed two local people and tried to take cash from the till when Ms Bridges was shot. One officer suggested one of the men had discharged the gun to prove it was loaded.