Policemen held in murder of Spanish family

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TWO SPANISH policemen are in detention on suspicion of having carried out the cold-blooded executions of a leading Galician industrialist, his wife, daughter and maid, apparently to cover their tracks after extorting nearly pounds 100,000 from the family. The businessman's two sons broke free from their bonds and escaped probable death.

The murders, in the family's villa near Vigo on the Atlantic Coast, shocked the nation and led Spain's chief of National Police, Carlos Conde Duque, to express the force's 'shame and astonishment'.

Manuel Lopez, the local civil governor and chief of police, assured the nation that Jesus Vela and Manuel Lorenzo, the officers under arrest, were 'rotten apples, with bad disciplinary records' and did not reflect upon the integrity of the National Police.

On Monday night, two men who said they were police officers forced their way into the white-stone villa of David Fernandez Grande, 57, who began as a lorry driver and became Galicia's biggest granite exporter. He was also a former vice-chairman of Celta de Vigo, the local First Division football team. The men gagged Fernandez and his 43-year-old wife, Pilar, and bound them to chairs in one room; they placed the Fernandez's 27-year-old daughter Marta and the 23-year-old maid, Ana Isabel Costas Pineiro, in another, and the couple's sons David, 22, and Pedro, 14, in a third, according to the police report.

The family was held hostage until Tuesday afternoon, by which time Fernandez, acting at gunpoint, had ordered an employee to deliver 20m pesetas (almost pounds 100,000) to the villa. The employee, surprised that his boss did not invite him in and hearing him whisper 'call the police', did so from a nearby phone box. But by then, it was too late for the hostages.

The robbers killed each of the four with a single shot through the neck. They attempted to muffle the sound by holding cushions to their victims' heads, the police said. Hearing the shots, the two sons broke free, smashed a window and yelled for help, at which point the gunmen fled.

It was one of the sons who later told police he had recognised one of the robbers as a police officer; the two suspects were arrested on Tuesday night, within six hours of the murders.

The local police chief said Mr Vela had shown signs of mental imbalance in the past, while Mr Lorenzo had had a problem with drug abuse. The coast around Vigo is notorious as a major unloading point for cocaine sent from South America.

The National Police Council, which groups representatives of police officers and their unions, held an emergency meeting yesterday.

'The Council wants to demonstrate its shame, and its consternation in the face of these events which are unprecedented in the history of the police corps,' said a statement issued after the meeting.