Gullible Britons flee imaginery riot

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The Independent Online
HOW MANY Indian con-artists does it take to trick two British backpackers out of pounds 110? Twelve, according to New Delhi police. The Britons fell prey to a gang of hustlers who persuaded them New Delhi was inflamed by riots and that they should flee the capital to save their lives.

Jamie Breman and Sacha Bryan, both in their mid-twenties, were first- time travellers to India, which might help explain how easily they were duped. And, in their defence, it must be said that Delhi's international airport at 4:30am - when their plane landed from Dubai - looks exactly as if it is swamped with refugees deperately fleeing some disaster. Hundreds of families are camped on the pavement outside the terminal and the road is choked with a noisy, honking chaos of traffic. But that is how it usually is at Indira Gandhi International Airport.

The Britons' trouble began when they arrived outside the Ringo Guest House in Delhi, a bottom-of-the-line establishment with, as one guidebook warns, "its fair share of detractors". At the entrance, a man waved them away, saying the hotel was full. He volunteered to try a nearby hostel for them, then claimed that was full, too. Explaining why all the hotels were booked solid, the Britons' helpful companion said that the day before, on 21 June, Hindus and Muslims had rioted in the streets, massacring more than 120 people. "He told us we had to leave Delhi by 7am, before curfew," the couple later told police.

It was then, according to newspaper reports, that half-a-dozen auto-rickshaw drivers swarmed around the Britons providing a chorus of vivid and gruesome descriptions of the street clashes and urged the hapless pair to bolt before they were swept up in the next day's carnage. As assistant police commissioner, Ashok Kumar, said: "They paid pounds 100 and 500 rupees to get away - they were so shaken, they would have paid anything."

The auto-rickshaw wallahs hired them a taxi to Jaipur, five hours away, at three times the going rate. As the taxi sped off, apparently, one of the hustlers rolled up the taxi's tinted windows, despite the 95 degree heat outside, and solemnly advised, "lowering these could be risky".

It was only the next morning in Jaipur, when the Britons asked locals about the riots, that they realised they had been fooled. The pair rang the British High Commission which urged them to file charges. "Jaipur wasn't on their itinerary, but they seem quite happy now," a diplomat said.