Sun isle assault case casts new shadow on Army

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The Independent Online
With its garish pubs, seaside shops selling football strips from the English Premiership and cafes offering bacon and eggs for breakfast, the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa has become a summer home-from-home for thousands of British tourists.

Yet the transformation of a once idyllic Mediterranean fishing village into a bubbling fun-in-the-sun seaside resort has also turned Ayia Napa into a town under siege by the British Army. From their base at Dhekelia, 10 miles up the coast, British troops sweep in on nightly raiding parties, lured by the promise of free-flowing beer and pleasure-seeking tourists.

Their unofficial night manoeuvres have led to a succession of fights, naked dancing by soldiers, convictions for rape, and revenge attacks by locals.

In the latest incident to infuriate Ministry of Defence officials in Whitehall, four soldiers appeared in court yesterday accused of beating up British tourists outside an Ayia Napa disco.

The incident on Saturday came a month after army chiefs lifted a ban on troops visiting the resort.

Roger Bell, 26, Tim Carter, 27, Steven Wolstencroft, 26, and Steven Girvan, 20 - all of junior rank and serving in the First Battalion of the King's Regiment, which is based on the island, were charged with grievous bodily harm.

They are accused of assaulting Shane Bell, 27, and Barry Ford, 23, two tourists from south London. Police say Mr Bell's jaw was broken in two places and Mr Ford's wrist was broken. The judge, sitting in the nearby town of Larnaca, postponed the case to tomorrow and ordered the soldiers, who are under close arrest in barracks, to pay bail of 2,000 Cypriot pounds (pounds 2,600).

The case will further damage a resort still reeling from the publicity surrounding the case of Janette Pink, the British divorcee infected with the Aids virus by a fisherman from Ayia Napa.

The fisherman, Pavlos Georgiou, was last week sentenced to 15 months in prison by a Cypriot court for deliberately giving her Aids.

But it is the behaviour of the British troops in Ayia Napa which threatens to destroy the resort's appeal to holidaymakers. Three years ago Louise Jensen, a Danish tour guide, was killed by three drunken members of the Royal Green Jackets, who are serving life sentences.

The killing led to an army ban on soldiers' visits to Ayia Napa. It was gradually relaxed, and in July this year all restrictions were lifted.

But two months ago a separate ban on all training visits to Cyprus by the Royal Marines was introduced after three marines were arrested at an Ayia Napa pub while dancing and singing "God Save the Queen" in the nude.

Yesterday, Mervyn Wynne-Jones, British Army spokesman in Cyprus, said the latest incident had resulted in a further ban on the 600-strong unit to which the four accused men belong.

He said: "Off-duty, out-of-bounds restrictions in the resort of Ayia Napa have been reimposed upon the unit concerned."

Air Vice Marshal Peter Millar, the British Commander-in-Chief in Cyprus, was said to view this latest incident with "considerable concern". There are 3,500 British troops stationed on the island at two bases which are designated Crown property but whose legal status is being challenged by Cypriot lawyers.

Pressure is mounting for the Army to leave the island, which gained its independence from Britain in 1960. Cypriot authorities fear any incident which results in the death of a local would cause a bloody backlash.

Can our squaddies ever be kept in line? page 15