Bar owner tells of 'wild' British soldiers

A bar owner choked back tears today as he told a court how "wild" British soldiers trashed his pub and beat him up after a mass brawl in the Cyprus party resort of Ayia Napa.

Kyriakos Hadjiyiannis said he needed an operation to restore his damaged eyesight after being punched then hit over the head with a chair during the chaos.

He was giving evidence against nine soldiers, all from the 2nd Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, based at Dhekelia on the island, on trial accused of starting the trouble. The defendants, facing up to five years in jail, deny all charges.

"They were very angry, they were wild. We tried to stop them but they turned against us," the witness told Famagusta District Court.

He said the beating caused him to develop cataracts, leaving him with 15% vision.

Holding back tears, he added: "I had an operation and was in bed for ten days.

"So for the rest of my life I have to have plastic lenses in my eyes. I'm a father of four children."

Bottles, glasses, chairs and tables flew when trouble erupted at around 1.20am on February 2 at his Flintstones-themed bar, the Bedrock Inn, in the centre of Ayia Napa.

The servicemen had been celebrating finishing tours of Iraq and Afghanistan and coming home to the UK, when 20 of them suddenly stormed the pub.

The court was not told what sparked the trouble but it appears that two soldiers had been assaulted, one beaten with a baseball bat by Cypriots, in the area shortly before. One Cypriot man may face charges pending a court decision.

Mr Hadjiyiannis said he tried to stop the soldiers from attacking bar staff but the "foreigners" then "turned" and attacked him.

He then pointed out Fusilier Daniel Brayne, 22, from Birmingham, sat in court accused of actual bodily harm, of being the first to hit him.

"He hit me on the face and head with his fist."

He also pointed out Fusilier William Sewell, 21, from Manchester, charged with grievous bodily harm, claiming the soldier used a metal crutch to beat up one of his employees.

Amidst the fighting, the witness told the court, he then spotted a chair being held aloft and suddenly had to put his hands over his head as 6ft 2in Fusilier Damien Heywood, from Manchester, crashed it over him.

"I could not forget the face of defendant number seven (Heywood)," he said.

"I would have been almost killed. He came from behind with a chair and hit me with all his force. I was almost unconscious. I got on my feet and I just gave up, I wanted to just run away to save myself."

Battered, bruised and dizzy from concussion, Mr Hadjiyiannis said he wanted to protect his property but ended up locking himself in a toilet until Royal Military Police and local police officers broke up the trouble.

Popi Pitsillou, prosecuting, asked the witness if the nine men in court were responsible.

"They are those persons that came starting and causing trouble and breaking anything of value," he replied.

Sewell is charged with grievous bodily harm, the most serious charge, malicious damage and breach of the peace.

David Ramage, 21, from Manchester and Brayne face charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm along with malicious damage and breach of the peace.

Heywood, Andy Evans, 21 and Dean Rushton, 21, all from Manchester, Gary Farrell, 23, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Christopher Wenham, 19, from London and Ashley Hughes, 19, from Birmingham, deny malicious damage and breach of the peace.

Andreas Charalambous, defending, questioned the witness as to why no details of being punched or hit with a chair were in his original statement.

The Bedrock Inn is at the clubbing centre of a resort with a dubious reputation for sex, drugs and violence - often involving British tourists.

Its owner is also making a £4 million claim against the soldiers individually and the British authorities on the island, for damages to his bar and personal injuries.

After the rape and murder of Danish tour guide Louise Jensen by British servicemen in 1994, the centre of Ayia Napa was declared off limits to soldiers by military top brass on the island.

But all the accused were "out of bounds" and should not have been at the bar when violence erupted.

Under Cypriot law there is no jury, but a single judge hears the case and decides guilt or innocence.

An interpreter sat among the soldiers to explain proceedings, held entirely in Greek.

Around 3,000 British military personnel are stationed in Cyprus at military bases on the island.

An estimated three million British tourists visit the island each summer, many youngsters heading for Ayia Napa, famed for its hedonistic nightlife.

The defendants were bailed for the case to resume on Monday.