Costa del Sol News - 8th May 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The Costa del Sol weekly newspaper, on sale at newsagents.

Week 8th May - 14th May 2008


Saturday saw Tapas (The Andalucia Performing Arts Society) entertain the British Consul, Bruce McIntyre, and golfers who took part in the annual Queen Elizabeth II Cup golf tournament at Lauro Golf in Alhaurin de la Torre. The Consul felt something typically British would be appropriate, and an excerpt from Tapas' recent very successful Old Time Music Hall seemed to fit the bill. After some well executed solo performances, the military chorus encouraged the audience into a very patriotic and rousing finale.


Exchange rates drive UK holidaymakers away from Spain and euro zone

By David Eade

Over recent months many Britons have been enticed to fly to the United States because of the good exchange rate between the pound and the dollar, but the concerning flipside of this coin is that, with the summer holiday season approaching, Britons are shying away from Spain and the euro zone.

A recent survey by internet site, a price comparison travel website, suggested that one in five Britons were cancelling their holidays as the financial reality began to bite.

This tale of gloom has been rejected by other industry sources but a change in booking habits does appear to be taking place. The traditional British holiday in Spain as well as Greece now seems to be under threat as tourists seek out areas where the pound still punches its weight.

A recent year-on-year comparison showed that the pound had fallen around 17 per cent to the euro. While tourists would have received 1.47 euros for their pound in April 2007, that figure had dropped to as low as 1.22 euros. The pound has since rebounded slightly; yesterday it was worth 1.27 euros.

The property market has already seen a slump as Britons, faced with restricted mortgage lending at home, a drop in value of their UK homes and the slowness of sales, having pulled back from buying in Spain. Now the top end of the holiday letting market in Spain is seeking new markets. As the rental price of a luxury home rockets with the slump of the pound, owners are seeking to attract visitors from Holland, France and Germany - all within the euro zone.

Spain's loss, UK's gain

While Spain is set to suffer, there is good news for the British holiday market. Throughout Britain there is an upturn in bookings as people opt to spend their holidays at home, especially as England and the other home nations will not be participating in this summer's European soccer championships. The UK regional airline Flybe also reported a 20 per cent rise in flights over the May bank holiday period.

Briton faces 15 years for Torremolinos murder

The victim was a friend of the accused's father

By Oliver McIntyre

THE PUBLIC prosecutor is seeking a 15-year prison sentence for a Briton who went on trial Monday for allegedly murdering his 70-year-old roommate, also British, in Torremolinos.

At the time of his arrest in April 2007, police said the accused, Carl B.C., then 40, was also wanted on an international arrest warrant issued by the UK, where he broke out of prison in 2004 while serving a life sentence for murder.

The victim, John H., is understood to have been a friend of the accused's father. His body was found about two weeks after his death, in a room inside the home where he and the accused were living in together in the Los Álamos zone of Torremolinos. Two mattresses and a variety of other items had been pushed up against the door, apparently in an effort to seal in the eventual smell so that neighbours would not be alerted. The house had been meticulously cleaned to remove any potential evidence, said police.

The body exhibited signs of a blow to the head and 13 stab wounds, according to the prosecutor's case summary.When he was arrested, the accused was carrying a falsified passport and had been travelling throughout Spain and other countries said police officials at the time.

In addition to the prison sentence, the prosecutor is seeking a 180,000-euro compensation payment to the victim's family.

Uncertainty over death of woman found in pool

Ex-husband was questioned but not detained after offering "ironclad" alibi

By Dave Jamieson

The body of a 35-year-old woman was found in the swimming pool of her home in Alhaurín de la Torre last Wednesday. Police say the corpse showed signs of violence including heavy blows to the head.

Investigations into the incident continue but officers said on Monday that the perpetrator or perpetrators may have tried to simulate a robbery to cover the true intent. A number of objects were found scattered across the floor of the house while a trail of blood led to the swimming pool.

The victim, named as Lucía Garrido, is understood to have lived with her 13-year-old daughter in the house, in the Arroyo Gragea district. Alhaurín town hall confirmed that on at least three occasions she had lodged formal complaints of threats and psychological abuse against her ex-husband, with whom she is understood to have owned a business. He arrived voluntarily, together with his current girlfriend, for questioning by Guardia Civil officers and claimed he had been in Cádiz during that day. Police later described his alibi as "ironclad" and did not detain him. Local people who live near the house in Calle Los Martínez said they had neither seen nor heard anything unusual. The victim was last seen at around 10am on the day of her death while she was shopping in the town centre.
A local resident alerted the authorities around 7pm after receiving a phone call from the El Pinar school, where the woman's daughter goes to school. A teacher said the girl's mother had failed to collect her after classes. When officers arrived, the body was found in the water and blood stains were evident in the garden.

Water in lungs

Investigators believe the victim may have still been alive when she entered the water. A post-mortem last Friday showed the presence of water in her lungs, suggesting she may have died from drowning, rather than from her injuries. The findings also confirmed a number of bruises and at least one knife injury.

Judge jails driver who caused coach crash

The 27-year-old faces nine charges of negligent manslaughter

By Oliver McIntyre

The 27-year-old driver who allegedly caused the deadly April 19 coach accident on the A7 motorway has been ordered to jail without bail pending trial.

The judge, who took the man's statement last week after he was released from hospital, justified her decision based on the severity of the charges he faces - nine counts of negligent manslaughter, 41 counts of negligence resulting in injury, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol - as well as on a potential risk of flight, due to the man's work as a lorry driver, which takes him all over the country.

The driver, J.G.R., was tested at double the legal limit for alcohol following the accident.

The judge found that the evidence established to date indicates that the man was speeding when he lost control of his 4x4 and crashed into the centre guardrail, then rebounded and smashed into the coach.

Two witnesses, drivers of other cars on the motorway at the time of the accident, reportedly testified that the 4x4 was travelling very fast when it passed them. One estimated the man was driving "around 180 kph," saying his own car, which was travelling at 120 kph, was buffeted by the wind caused by the 4x4 as it shot past.

The accident, in which nine Finnish tourists were killed and dozens were injured, occurred shortly after 7.30pm on April 19, at kilometre 224.5, near the border between Benalmádena and Torremolinos.

Forgiving Finns

The Finnish community on the Costa, represented by the Fuengirola-based Suomela association, issued a statement last week calling for the driver to be treated fairly and for the public and authorities to "not go for blood." In the statement, made through Fuengirola's councillor for foreign residents, Subi Kauranen, who is of Finnish origin, the group said that "it is clear nobody wanted to cause this accident."

The last Finnish tourist to remain hospitalised from the crash, a 50-year-old woman reported to be in serious condition, has been transferred from Málaga's Carlos Haya to a hospital in her home country.

Police in Málaga to improve efficiency with PDAs

Hand-held devices will speed up processing of traffic citations

By Dave Jamieson

Málaga's local police force plan to follow their colleagues in the municipal transport department by employing the latest technology. Officers are to be issued with hand-held computers to help speed up the administration of traffic offences.

It was announced last week that 300,000 euros is to be invested in the purchase of personal digital assistants (PDAs) for city officers, which the town hall believes will improve productivity and make their work more effective. An agent who, for example, is issuing a fine to a motorist for illegal parking can enter all the details into the PDA, take a photograph of the vehicle with the computer, check the legality and ownership of the car and then send all the data via satellite to a central database with the press of a single button. Using an additional printer, a fine notice can then be printed and left under the offending vehicle's windscreen wipers. In addition to traffic offences, officers will use their PDAs to record information on drug arrests, drinking in public and other offences encountered on the streets.

A growing trend

The first Spanish municipality to employ PDAs was Gavà in Barcelona, which equipped its officers in 2004. A year later the town was processing 4,000 fines annually by this method. Already, police in Vélez-Málaga use PDAs to register a fifth of all fines, a pilot scheme began in Ronda four months ago and Cártama has been using them for 18 months. In Nerja, the equipment used to manage the data arriving from PDAs was installed last month and the town plans to incorporate their use over a three-year period.

The PDAs used by the police cost more than 2,000 euros each and a unit can store the registration details of every vehicle in a municipality together with personal data on their proprietors. In addition, other information including street plans, maps, local bylaws and traffic regulations can be quickly accessed by officers on the streets.

British pair get 30 years in jail for Álora murder

NEWS Staff Reporter

The British father and son found guilty of murdering a fellow Briton and leaving his body in an Álora well have been sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison. The pair were also ordered to pay compensation of 120,000 euros to the two children of their victim and 60,000 euros to his partner, as well as repaying almost 4,500 euros and £2,000 that they stole from his bank accounts in Spain and the UK.

Police began investigations into the case in July 2005 when the body of a man was found in a well in the Arroyo Pedro la Torre area of Álora. The corpse, which exhibited a head injury and indications that the victim's hands had been tied, was identified as that of a British workman called Lee, known locally as Alfie, who ran a tiling crew.

The previous month, he had dismissed one of his workers, Jason, over an unpaid debt which led to a fight between them in which Lee suffered significant injuries. The court heard how on June 11, 2005, Jason and his father Edward met Lee in Cártama on the pretext of an offer of work, but instead they took him to a remote place where they attacked and killed him. They then stole his credit cards before tying his hands together and dumping him in the well.
Jason fled back to the UK but was detained there in November 2005 and extradited to Spain the following month. The sentences handed down last Friday include 15 years each in prison for the crime of murder, plus two years and one day each for theft.

Pinar del Rey battleswitches to town hall

Council U-turn leaves residents angry and confused

By David Eade

ECOLOGISTAS en Acción and residents in the Campo de Gibraltar are furious after it appears that San Roque town hall is now backing plans to build a motorway through the Pinar del Rey.

The valuable wooded enclave, built by the Spanish Navy in 1800 and a vital green lung for the industrialised bay zone, is under threat after the Ministry of Public Works announced plans that would take the new A7 motorway through the area. Pinar del Rey is also the source of vital water aquifers and a relaxation area for thousands of people both from the Campo de Gibraltar and also from the Rock.

Initially San Roque town hall said that it had sent its representations against the project to the ministry and expected these to be implemented.

Now a source close to San Roque town hall told the Costa del Sol News: "From what I gather they are satisfied with the project the ministry has drawn up, which includes a flyover near the Alhaja stream. Both the ministry and the council have stated that there is no danger to the aquifer or the environment (with a similar solution to Los Barrios-Jerez dual carriageway through the Alcornocales). Verdemar disagrees and is therefore planning protests at the Town Hall."

Mary, a resident of San Roque, with a close interest in preserving the woodland, told us that she had heard the road scheme also included a provision for urbanisation along its route. This certainly would not have been part of the ministry's scheme but it could well be that San Roque town hall now sees the possibility of opening up parts of the area to construction in the motorway's wake.

More protests could start early June

For its part Ecologistas en Acción has called on all residents in San Roque and the surrounding area to take part in a series of protests that will be held outside the Town Hall. In a press statement the environmentalists stated that as no plans for a change to the motorway had been published we can only think "that the town hall has been overcome and is not capable of defending the interests of the municipality." No dates have yet been given for the protests but a spokeswoman told us: "They will possibly start at the beginning of June."

Nerja declares motor home parks illegal

By Dave Jamieson

TWO AREAS provided for the parking of motor homes have been closed by Nerja town hall. Both were on the western side of the town on Playazo beach and had opened only a few weeks ago.

Opposition PSOE councillors denounced the two locations last month, describing them as unlicensed camping sites in an area of special protection. Septic tanks and lighting were installed by the operator of the facilities, Valero Jiménez, who claimed at the time that he had all necessary permits for his project which he described as "pioneering" in Spain.

The town hall last week closed the two areas on the advice of technicians who advised that they were being used for activities not contemplated in the original licence which, they said, gave permission only for parking. Sr Jiménez said he was deeply upset about the turn of events and pointed out that, over last weekend's holiday, motor homes had parked on the beach behind the closed areas, leaving it like "a pigsty" when they departed. He added that he had invested 120,000 euros in setting up the sites and did not understand why the town hall had closed them. However, he was confident that the council would reconsider and permit him to reopen his business which, he claimed, "attracts many tourists to the town."

Nerja has had an ongoing problem with the proliferation of motor homes visiting the town in recent years. Car drivers complain they often occupy two or more parking spaces, while bars and restaurants object to them stopping outside and blocking their views. Few facilities are available for motor home owners visiting the municipality and the opening of the two sites outside the centre had been generally welcomed by the town.

On Monday, PSOE leader Ángel Ramírez declared himself to be "satisfied" that the law had been observed, while Sr Jiménez described himself as a victim in a "political war which has nothing to do with me."

Odyssey treasure could be from a pirate ship

Court battle over company's find continues

By David Eade

The treasure hunters of the Odyssey marine exploration company have been described disparagingly in some quarters as 'heritage pirates', so it is ironic that booty recovered from the seabed in the Atlantic off Portugal last year may have come from a pirate ship and not a Spanish galleon. The treasure from the site was immediately flown from Gibraltar to the USA causing an outcry from the Spanish government and other political and environmental groups.

The company was forced to identify the wreck by the Florida court hearing its ongoing legal battle with the Spanish government. Odyssey says its main hypothesis is that the treasure came from a Spanish ship, probably the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes y las Animas.

The Spanish galleon went down in 1804 loaded with gold and silver from South America. However, Odyssey says that as there is only the treasure and no remains from the vessel it is difficult to establish its exact provenance. Indeed, the valuable booty could come from jettisoned cargo rather than a wreck.
In its court submission Odyssey stated: "The cargo may have come from a pirate ship that is reported to have been lost in the area during the period that correlates with the dates on the coins documented to date." Other theories are that it may have been from a "heavily travelled" merchantman that operated during the Colonial era.

Vessel missing

The Odyssey statement explained: "The most outstanding characteristic of this site is the actual absence of a vessel. Odyssey discovered, at the site, a large field of artefacts including coins and other ship's cargo, but no ship's hull, ballast pile or keel which is typically associated with a shipwreck."

If the find does prove to be from a Spanish galleon then Madrid has indicated that it will seek the return of the treasure via the US courts. José Jimenéz, the head of Spain's Fine Arts and Cultural Heritage Institute believes that Spain had good prospects of recovering a valuable haul of coins raised from the seabed.
Sr Jiménez said Spanish experts who have analysed some of the treasure were convinced it was from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. The institute is due to host a press conference this week to explain Spain's position in an ongoing lawsuit with Odyssey in Florida.
Pirate ship battle

Puerto Banús security cameras get final rejection

Third government ruling against plan cannot be appealed, says councillor

By David Eade

There will be no security cameras in Puerto Banús. The sub-delegation of the government in Málaga province has rejected for the third time plans to introduced the cameras in the port zone.

The scheme had the backing of the local businesses, the CIT tourism body and the town hall. But the government has rejected the appeal by these organisations over its decision in January that the area did not warrant camera surveillance as it was not an area that suffered from serious crime.
The road to installing these cameras now seems to be closed. Marbella's councillor for security, Francisca Caracuel, has told the administration that there is no possibility that the latest ruling can be challenged. She will hold a meeting shortly with members of the CIT, which had promoted the scheme, to discuss if the plan should be amended.

The CIT has criticised thecentral government decision. Its president, Miguel Gómez y Molina, said he was surprised at the ruling, especially as 28 security cameras are to be installed in Málaga city.

The plan for Puerto Banús would have seen between 10 and 15 cameras connected via radio to a central control point. Here they would have been supervised by a number of agents specially trained for the task. It would have allowed for the best use of the port's security personnel, especially at peak holiday periods when around a million people of different nationalities flock to the area.

The businesses in the port had been willing to co-finance the cameras, which would have cost around 150,000 euros. It would also serve as a model for other parts of Marbella to copy. Permission for cameras was first sought in 2005 and Sr Gómez y Molina said it was inexplicable why ''the jewel in the crown of Andalucía tourism'' should be without this security provision.

Folklore fun as regioncelebrates Cross Festival

Foreign residents in Nerja took part for the fifth year running

By John Peatey and David Eade

MANY local towns and villages joined the nation, as well as other Spanish-speaking countries throughout the world, in celebrating the Fiesta de Las Cruces or Festival of The Crosses on Saturday. The age-old event, whose origins are unclear, takes place annually on May 3.

In Andalucía, and in Nerja particularly, local people erect crosses in the streets, putting in a great deal of time and effort to decorate the crosses in vibrant colour schemes, using all manner of materials.

Tradition dictates that a flamenco dress, a shawl, a guitar, an apple pierced by a pair of scissors, the Baby Jesus, medlars (nisperos), a sheaf of wheat, copper pots and lots and lots of flowers should all be included in the displays.

Some say the event has its roots in a Pagan festival to celebrate the end of winter while others claim that it celebrates a miracle which revealed the True Cross, but whatever the origins in Nerja certainly it is a good excuse to have a street parties all over town.

Crosses abounded and virtually every house along Nerja's main thoroughfare, Calle Las Parras, was decorated. The street was closed to traffic for the duration, and the partying continued well into the night.

Once again this year a group of foreign residents, calling themselves The Extranjeros of Nerja took part, for the fifth time, staging a display outside the California restaurant on Calle Cristo. The group has won three special commendations in the past but were unlucky this time. Members of the Nerja Theatre Group added to the occasion with a number of dance routines during the evening, much to the delight of the many passers-by.

Around the corner in Calle Carabeo there was another impressive display, featuring one of the traditional local blue and white fishing boats, and again a number of the houses along the street were extensively decorated for the occasion.

The Nerja town hall has supported the revival of the festival over the last 20 years by staging contests to find the best dressed crosses in town. A panel of local dignitaries judged the crosses during the day, and cash prizes were awarded for those found to be the most impressive.

Arriate's Romería de la Cruz

Inland from the Costa del Sol, in Arriate close to Ronda, villagers attended a romería mass at the Ermita de los Frontones before taking part in the Romería de la Cruz. The romeros walked in procession, with the women's 'gitana' flamenco dresses making a vibrantly colourful display, through the village's lanes to spend the day partying and picnicking at Los Pinos de Marqués.

Mari Luz's family collectssignatures on paedophile

Demands include life imprisonment and sex-offender lists

By David Eade

The family of Mari Luz Cortes, the Huelva youngster who went missing in January and was later found dead, allegedly having been murdered by a convicted child molester, have launched a campaign to collect signatures on a paedophile-crackdown petition.

They are committed to travelling 5,500 kilometres, visiting 32 cities throughout Spain and asking people to support their call for all paedophiles to be locked away for life. In addition, they want a published national and international list of child sex offenders to be drawn up so that these people are known to the public.
The goal is to collect three million signatures on the petition. So far over 200,000 people have signed.

A high-profile collection session was held in Calle Larios in Málaga on Friday. The grandfather of Mari Luz, Juan José Cortes, was on hand to urge people to add their names to the document. The petition has already been to Sevilla and Cádiz and then moved on to Granada.

Going to Congress

Juan José stated that once the first 500,000 signatures had been collected the document would be presented to Congress. He added that the family hoped that the Spanish politicians in the national parliament would listen to the demands of the people.

Línea Directa may become wholly Spanish-owned in R

NEWS Staff Reporter

The Spanish bank which owns half of Direct Line in this country wants to buy the remainder of the business. Línea Directa is a 50/50 joint venture between Bankinter and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

Experts are predicting a fierce battle as RBS sells off all or part of its insurance business, with more than 15 parties having already expressed interest, and more likely to come forward. The bank, which also owns Churchill Insurance, hopes the move will boost its capital by some £4 billion.

Línea Directa, the Spanish branch of the UK's Direct Line insurance company, began operations in October 1995 and now claims to be this country's largest direct car insurer. It has around 1.45 million clients and is reported to control about five per cent of the market. Bankinter is understood to have approached RBS's advisors at the global investment bank Goldman Sachs and offered to buy the remaining half of Línea Directa. Their bid is understood to value the business at just under 900 million euros. Potential bidders for RBS's insurance interests were expected to receive an information memorandum on the auction from Goldman and Merrill Lynch during this week.

Ubrique leads demands for better health care

Town's long-time campaign spreads throughout Sierra region

By David Eade

Blue banners bearing the slogan 'Especialistas Ya' can be seen throughout the Sierra de Cádiz town of Ubrique, where local are demanding improvements to a health system that requires them to travel to the hospital in Villamartín for specialist care. For four years they have been campaigning for specialists to be available at an improved local health centre, and their battle has now spread as the whole region demands better health service provisions.

The majority of residents of the Sierra de Cádiz have to attend hospital in either Villamartín or Ronda. This condemns them to hours of travel, often on poor roads. Indeed, they often have to go to Cádiz, Jerez or to Ronda for more advanced care as the Villamartín hospital only offers limited services.

In Ubrique, the residents' Especialistas Ya campaign is demanding that medical specialists in internal medicine, ophthalmology, trauma and gynaecology attend the local health centre at least on a weekly basis. They now are widening their demands to seek a hospital to cater exclusively to the Sierra region.

Currently, patients in Arcos have to go to Jerez for hospital treatment while the Ronda hospital in Málaga province also caters to Olvera and Alcalá del Valle and so on. The health campaigners believe a single new hospital should serve this area of the Sierra de Cádiz. In addition they argue that family health care services need to be improved and there also must be upgrades to the ambulance service.

The Sierra de Cádiz health authority says it has difficulty in recruiting doctors for the more remote villages. However, it also points to the fact that half of the health centres in the area are new. These are located in Grazalema, Villaluenga del Rosario, El Bosque, Prado del Rey, Espera, Coto de Bornos, Zahara de la Sierra, Algodonales, Setenil and El Posito in Arcos.

A&E deficiencies

The smallest municipalities in the Sierra, Benaocaz, Villaluenga del Rosario and Jedula in Arcos, do not have emergency night cover. In the case of Benaocaz, patients have to travel to Ubrique. There are 15 ambulances but these have to cover all 19 towns, and thus work on a network basis. There are also four mobile emergency units equipped with a doctor, nurse and ambulance driver and these are based in Arcos, Ubrique, Villamartín and Olvera.

Ubrique takes its case to the Andalucía parliament