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Tour firms defend Ibiza's party animals

AS RECORD numbers of British holidaymakers head abroad for sunshine holidays, a light was shed yesterday on the seedy underside of one of the most popular destinations.

Michael Birkett, 51, British vice-consul on the Spanish island of Ibiza, has resigned his post in disgust at the alcohol and drug-fuelled antics of young British holidaymakers. He leaves today after condemning their degenerate behaviour for ruining Britain's reputation.

"Basically I am sick of the behaviour of some of the mainly young British tourists who come here, and of clearing up the mess they cause," he said.

An article in the island's newspaper, Diario de Ibiza, last week branded British holidaymakers "animals", but Mr Birkett had already handed his notice in by then. "Not all British tourists behave badly," he said. "There are a lot of families who come here and just enjoy themselves. But there are problems with the younger tourists."

Mr Birkett, formerly an accountant at the British embassy in Madrid, has been in Ibiza for 18 months where his duties included dealing with crime, drugs overdoses and accidents.

About 450,000 British holidaymakers a year visit Ibiza, and concerns about their behaviour centre on drunkenness, drug-taking and promiscuity.

A television documentary last year showed two women who claimed to have slept with 40 men during their fortnight's holiday. Police have expressed concern at the amount of drugs being imported for the booming club scene.

Tour operators yesterday rushed to defend their clients against the vice- consul's allegations. A spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents said there were always some people who got into trouble. "If you went into any police station in the UK on a Saturday night you would find people involved in problems. Those people go on holiday," she said.

The vice-consul would deal with a high percentage of those who cause problems by the nature of his job. But the Spanish quite like us there. They don't have to market Ibiza to the British."

Two-fifths of package holidays offered by British tour firms are sold to Spain, which is the number one destination for Britons, followed by France then Greece and Florida.

Millions of Britons visit Spain each year and Foreign Office statistics published in its last consular service report show that the country also holds the largest number of Britons in jail - about one-sixth of the 2,000 held worldwide.

A spokesman for Club 18-30, which has faced criticisms for encouraging bad behaviour, said: "A lot of things get exaggerated and sensationalised. Our view is that San Antonio [Ibiza's night-life capital] is little different to a number of holiday resort destinations around the world with a vibrant youth culture."

A Thomson Holidays spokeswoman said younger people liked Ibiza for the clubs, while families and older visitors enjoyed quieter parts of the island. She added: "We do try to encourage our customers to behave responsibly and carefully but there are instances of people letting themselves get out of control."

Trevor Phillips

Review, page 4