The dark underbelly of the Sunshine State

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The Independent US

Nicknamed the sunshine state, Florida is more often associated with sandy shores and retirement homes for the wealthy than violent crime.

But beneath the sunny surface lies a darker underbelly of criminality, in which hapless holidaymakers become caught up from time to time.

Some 113,541 violent crimes were recorded in the south-eastern state in 2009, the latest year for which FBI figures are available.

This equates to 612.5 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest rates in the US.

James Cooper and James Kouzaris were not the first British tourists to be among the violent crime death toll there.

In September 1993, UK holidaymaker Gary Colley was shot dead and his girlfriend Margaret Jagger was injured during a botched mugging on a highway 25 miles from Tallahassee.

The couple, from Wilsden, West Yorkshire, were reportedly threatened on their way to Tampa by a gang of youths.

Lorry driver Mr Colley, 34, was the ninth foreign tourist to be killed in the state since the previous autumn, the BBC reported at the time.

The number of incidents that year prompted the Foreign Office to issue a warning to Britons thinking of travelling to the state - guidance which has since been lifted.

And safety concerns were said to have taken their toll on the local tourism industry following the spate of violent crime.

The spectre of tourist murders reared its head again more recently when Ronald Gentile was shot dead in the holiday hotspot of Miami.

The 54-year-old Illinois salesman was in the city to celebrate his son's 17th birthday when, according to witnesses, he was fired at by a man he had asked for directions.

The culprit approached his vehicle, robbed him and discharged his weapon, local press reported in 2006.

Following the latest incident, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said travel advice to Britons would be kept under close review.