Relics of empire on trial in Cypriot court

Trial told of heavy drinking and high emotions as three British soldiers deny manslaughter of Danish tour guide
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The Independent Online
The three British soldiers stood with their backs to the window.

Private Alan Ford, with long side-burns and an open necked shirt under a black jacket, grinned and shook his head occasionally when he didn't agree with the witnesses.

Private Justin Fowler, tall and unsmiling in a grey jacket two sizes too big for him, wore 1930s lapels and sleeves so large they caught on the wooden wall of the dock.

And there was Private Jeff Parnell, lips pursed, hair short, a blue shirt tight at the neck and a handcuff with a broken lock dangling from his left wrist. He looked repeatedly at his fingernails as the Larnaca Assize Court listened to the evidence of a young woman's slaughter.

All of Cyprus' recent history seemed to be crammed into that little court room yesterday afternoon. The three Royal Green Jackets soldiers came from the vast and largely deserted sovereign base at Dhekelia, a relic of empire that still lies decaying in the Mediterranean sun.

The Cypriot policemen in their blue shirts and black trousers looked more British than young Captain Hume Jones, of the Royal Green Jackets, who sat silently at the back of the court in slacks and striped shirt. He is the official British military observer at the three soldiers' manslaughter trial.

Behind the soldiers, on the other side of the court window, stood the new beach-front hotels of Larnaca and the airport, built after the 1974 Turkish invasion, where the holiday charter flights could be seen gliding into land every few minutes.

These were the same flights which Louise Jensen met each day in her work as a Danish tour guide - until she was kidnapped from her Cypriot boyfriend last September, stripped naked, her hands bound behind her back before being beaten to death with a shovel.

For Louise Jensen was part of the new Cyprus, the economic boom-time holiday resort of youth and freedom that had almost turned its back on colonialism and virtually forgotten the Turkish invasion.

One by one, the witnesses trooped into the bright little court. There was the Cypriot mechanic who had towed away Private Fowler's Mini Moke jeep, after it was stopped by police in the early hours of 13 September last year, less than two hours after Jensen had been seized by three men in a jeep on a country road near Ayia Napa.

There was the public works official who confirmed the vehicle's location just a few yards outside the British base area, and Kyriacos Veresies, the government psychiatrist who examined the three soldiers three days after they had allegedly killed Jensen.

Private Ford, Mr Veresies claimed, told him that "for years I've been using alcohol but, in the past three years, I've been systematically abusing it, drinking whisky without eating ... frequently getting drunk". Private Fowler, he said, admitted to drinking "only at weekends ... but enough to get drunk". Private Parnell, Mr Veresies went on, said he drank alcohol "only occasionally".

Then there was barman Photis Takis, a big bruiser of a man who told the defence lawyers they didn't know how to ask questions, but said he remembered seeing one of the three soldiers drinking in the main square of Ayia Napa on the night of Jensen's murder.

And then there was Constable Andreas Michael, based at Dhekelia police station, who, along with a colleague early on the morning of 13 September, answered a request for help from an armed Cypriot policeman who was trying to detain three young Englishmen in a Mini Moke just outside the British base.

The three soldiers, all of whom deny manslaughter charges, sat impassively as PC Michael told of seeing the accused "wild ... shouting and cursing" the policeman, of how the men were marched to the local Cypriot police station where one of them shouted that he - PC Michael - "had no right to ask for particulars".

PC Michael also told of how a young civilian, Jensen's distraught boyfriend, turned up with more police, crying: "It's them, it's them."

Inside the police station, PC Michael said, two of the three soldiers were kicking walls and doors and were ordered to kneel on the floor.

And why had the policemen ordered them to kneel, the defence lawyer asked abruptly? Did the policemen make their request politely? Did the police say "please"?

And there followed one of those moments that darkened the little courtroom. "We told them to kneel," PC Michael replied quietly, "because all three of us saw they had blood on their clothes and blood on their bodies, and all three of us thought they might have been dangerous."

The hearing continues today.