From the word go, they treated me like a convicted criminal

Sarah Whyler's romantic trip to Bruges went wildly wrong
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The Independent Travel
Tell us who you really are and stop wasting our time." A four- hour interrogation by Belgian immigration officials was not quite what Sarah Whyler was expecting when her boyfriend arranged a surprise romantic treat to Bruges.

Neither Ms Whyler nor her boyfriend, Steve Webster, had travelled on Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel before. All the other passengers to Belgium were waved through after presenting their passports at immigration, but Ms Whyler was told to wait at one side.

"I was taken away, without explanation, to a room two floors below. I was led through a metal gate that was shut behind me, and made to sit in a room. They told me they'd discovered my passport was forged. I was told to admit it, to tell them who I really was and to stop wasting their time."

Ms Whyler's partner, meanwhile, was becoming extremely anxious. He was prevented from seeing his travelling companion, and instructed to wait in the station. He could only speculate about the treatment she was receiving.

Her detention lasted four hours, during which a succession of officials appeared, asked questions, then went away again. She was not allowed any sort of representation. At one stage she was warned that her passport was to be sent away to be examined by fraud officers unless she confessed who she was. Ms Whyler, who says she is "Bromley born and bred", offered supporting evidence such as bank cards and a sports club pass. It was rejected. Ms Whyler then suggested they make further enquiries with the Home Office in Britain to establish her innocence. "No one was prepared to listen to me."

The offending document was a normal British passport which she had renewed through the Passport Office in Peterborough two years ago. She had used it most recently last summer for a trip to Turkey, without problem, and it had been in her possession since then. The Belgian officials, however, were convinced it was a fake.

"I was accused of having had the passport made up by a friend. I was told that the crown at the top of my passport was out of alignment. From the word go, they treated me like a convicted criminal."

By mid-afternoon Ms Whyler was informed she was being deported back to Britain. She was taken back to upstairs to wait in a police room at the station, but her partner was nowhere to be seen. Eventually she was allowed to look for him, but only in the company of a plain-clothes official.

Then Eurostar staff joined the proceedings. Mr Webster, they said, could only travel back with her if he paid a further pounds 77. His return ticket (like hers) was dated three days later, and they would not accept it for the train on which Ms Whyler was being deported. After a heated exchange, and discussions with immigration officials, they were allowed to travel together.

"The Belgians handed over a brown envelope containing my passport, and police reports stating I was in possession of a forged passport to an official on the train."

On board the Eurostar train, yet more officials appeared. "They took me into the corridor to hear my side of the story. Their response was that I was obviously telling the truth. They asked me to wait at Waterloo while they checked that the passport had not been reported stolen, they handed it back and let me go."

So Ms Whyler and Mr Webster found themselves back in London SE1 instead of Bruges, their romantic holiday having vanished along with the pounds 500 that the trip cost them. Since then, the UK Passport Agency has confirmed to the Belgian authorities that the passport was genuine. Eurostar has offered them a free trip to compensate for the problems. The couple decided to visit Paris instead of Brussels.

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