Soldiers were 'drunk and abusive to policeman'

Robert Fisk reports on the Cyprus trial of three Britons for manslaught er of a tour guide
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Vasken Akoghlanian was trying to explain to the court how three British soldiers behaved when an armed Cypriot policeman stopped them outside the British military base at Dhekelia and ordered them to walk down the road with their hands on their heads. As a barman back down the road at Ayia Napa, the Armenian had already concluded, he said, that the soldiers were drunk. "The three guys started shouting and they obviously wouldn't obey what the policeman was saying."

The three soldiers - Privates Jeff Parnell, 23, Alan Ford, 26, and Justin Fowler, 27, of the Royal Green Jackets, all charged with the manslaughter of Danish tour guide Louise Jensen on 13 September last year - sat without showing emotion as Petros Clerides, the prosecuting counsel, asked Mr Akoghlanian what the soldiers were saying to the policeman on the road outside Dhekelia. "They were shouting 'fuck you, fuck off'," the Armenian replied, and there was silence in court.

Not that anyone was shocked. The court had already been told by Mr Akoghlanian's fellow barman, Ermis Andreou, that one of the same three British soldiers had drunkenly shouted the same words at him when they tried to park outside the Patio Mazeri restaurant in Ayia Napa less than two hours' earlier - just before Louise Jensen was murdered. The problem, it turned out, was that no one in the Larnaca Assize Court could translate the offending word.

Faced with that most archaic of English words, the female interpreter raised her hands in despair. Judge Marios Georgio peered down at the court over his frameless spectacles, eyebrows raised in surprise. Sitting with the other two accused on the left of the court, even Pte Jeff Parnell - who has been studying Greek on a computer in the Nicosia Central Prison - shrugged hopelessly.

In the end, that brief passage in the court records was rendered in English, a language which everyone present, given Cyprus's colonial history, knew all too well. Mr Akoghlanian preferred to give his evidence in English, while one of the defence counsel lapsed briefly when he questioned Constable Andreas Michael during the morning.

Even the court itself was by definition English, for it was faithfully following the colonial no-jury system of three judges sitting alone to hear evidence, the British having concluded a century ago that the island was so small that any accused Cypriot would inevitably be related to someone on the jury.

So the three judges in their black robes and white ties listened all day yesterday as lawyers for the defence of the three soldiers tried to prove that the men had been wrongfully arrested after they had allegedly beaten Louise Jensen to death with a shovel, that they had been assaulted by the Cypriot policeman after their Mini Moke had been stopped outside Dhekelia, that they had never shouted those words that the court could not translate, indeed that the Armenian barman had fabricated his statement to the police, on the grounds that he had not mentioned the soldiers swearing when he made the first of two depositions to the local detectives.

Vasken Akoghlanian had seen the three British soldiers, he said, outside the Ayia Napa restaurant sometime before midnight on 12 September, "offensive, aggressive, drunk", one of them hanging on the metal bar at the back of the vehicle, demanding to park in front of the entrance.

So had his colleague Ermis Andreou. His second barman colleague was Michael Vassiliades, the Cypriot boyfriend of Louise Jensen, the Danish tour guide who had less than two hours to live when the soldiers showed up outside the restaurant. Asked why he had not mentioned the soldiers' behaviour in his initial statement, Mr Akoghlanian replied, "it was because at the time I was only thinking of how to find Louise". Later, he said, when he realised Louise Jensen had been murdered and there would be a trial, he gave the police further details. "I did it for justice," he said.

The hearing continues today.