ANOTHER VIEW; Festive feelings that lead to tragedy

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Why do tragedies so regularly appear to accompany our public holidays? Those young, innocent children murdered during our glorious summer, these fresh-faced, lovely young girls who have disappeared or been abducted and murdered over the Christmas break.

Once again we sit appalled, reading our newspapers, listening to or watching the news. These could be our children, grandchildren, siblings, friends. We suffer with their parents and at the same time we quickly try to find excuses why it could not happen to us - it must not happen to us.

Over the many years that I have worked in this field of personal safety, we have begun to recognise the dangers of holidays. However carefully a child or even an adult can be schooled in safety rules, somehow these can all be relaxed in the excited rosy glow of a holiday; you are feeling that nothing can happen to you and all is well with the world. In such a mood it is easy to be taken in.

Strangers cease to be strangers when they smile, are kind or are female. The Wests used this ploy adroitly and so many suffered the consequences. Besides, we feel strangers over the holiday period must also be filled with goodwill.

It is preferable to consider safe places rather than safe people. For instance, hitch-hiking down a motorway presents you as an easy target. You are alone, it's odds-on that no one knows precisely where you are, and if you are abroad, it may be some time until you are missed. You show you are prepared to get into a steel container, which is centrally locked and being driven at speed by a complete stranger who may have already convinced themselves that you are "asking for it".

Long before you travel, you need to ask yourself whether you are willing to chance these risks.

Leaving a disco by yourself, having had something to drink, you may have smiled without thought at someone across the room. They may have got the wrong message - but anyway, it's dark and no one's around. You need to decide how you are going to get home before you go out.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has done extensive research with Oxford Brookes University on youngsters travelling around the world. Thailand has well- known drug problems. However, we still know far too many young people who get into considerable trouble.

Risk and excitement are half the fun of world travel, but just like all personal safety dangers, these need to be looked at in advance.

With all the trust's experience in its schools programmes, one of the most important lessons I have learnt with youngsters is to avoid saying "Don't!" Rather, they should be given informed ideas of what to do and encouraged to make their own decisions.

All this sounds remarkably like common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is too rarely common practice, particularly on holidays.

The writer is director of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the national charity for personal safety.