Costa del Sol News - 17th January 2008

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Week 17th January - 23rd January 2008


Thousands of illegal properties along the costas could be pulled down

By Richard Torné

THE nightmare many thought would never happen became a reality for a retired expat couple last week when their dream home was pulled down by the Junta de Andalucía.

Sixty-four year old Len Prior and his wife Helen, 60, stood horrified as Guardia Civil officers and local police men escorted a bulldozer and a Junta official to enforce a judicial order at noon last Wednesday.

Despite having a building permit for their villa, built on 10,060 square metres of land in the La Loma de Vera district in the province of Almeria, the regional government ruled that the house had been built illegally and should be pulled down. The property was demolished because a judge, on instructions from the regional government, ruled that it could give rise to further development in the area.

At the height of the drama, Mr Prior – who has a heart condition- collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital, although he was later released.

Fighting back the tears, Mrs Prior said: “I want the prime minister and the King of Spain to see what they’ve done to us. This was our only home.”

Speaking to Costa del Sol News’s sister newspaper the Costa Almería News Mr Prior said: “I couldn’t believe what they did. I feel like committing suicide right now,” he remarked.

Mrs Prior complained bitterly that she had been “let down by everyone”. She said: “Vera council caused this problem. They should compensate us.”

The demolition order caught the Priors totally by surprise because the couple had obtained all the necessary paperwork. Mrs Prior said: “We had all our licences in order. We had the escritura (deeds) for the property and the land and we were also on the padrón.”
The Priors obtained the building licence in 2002 and moved into their villa in May a year later. Built on rustic land, the home was legal in the eyes of the council because it complied with a law stating that it had to be more than 10,000 square metres in size and not form part of an urban nucleus.

But since the villa was in an area occupied by other properties – at least one of which is also earmarked for demolition- the judge ruled it illegal.

Frantic efforts by the Priors’ solicitors delayed the morning demolition until 15.15 hours, during which time friends and family rushed against the clock to remove furniture and belongings.
In a cruel twist, the garage was spared by the wrecking team because it had a different building permit.

The lawyer representing the Priors, Paulo López-Alcázar, who had lodged an appeal against the demolition, said: “This is an open war between the Junta and all the councils which do not belong to the Socialist party (PSOE).”

Sr Lopez highlighted other cases in which demolition orders had been revoked, and said he had appealed against the decision at the Tribunal Constitucional. But even if the verdict is favourable, it will be too late to save the Priors’ home.

The villa, given the name of ‘Tranquilidad’ (Tranquility) by the couple, is the first property owned by expats to be pulled down in Almería.
The Priors had fought a two-and-a-half year battle against the Junta to save their home, where they had been living for almost five years, and had been assured by their lawyers and the local council that their property would never be pulled down, on the grounds that it would be against the Spanish constitution.

Daughter Louiza, who came to live in Albox with her 15-year-old daughter, said the experience had made her rethink her future. She said: “We thought we would be better off here – and safer. It’s obviously not the case.”

Costa Almería News asked environment minister, Fuensanta Coves, whether she thought such a severe application of the law would damage the region’s reputation. Sra Coves declined to answer, preferring to allow the Junta’s delegate, Juan Callejón, deal with the question.

Sr Callejón said: “It will not damage our image at all as long as things are done correctly, there will never be problems. Not only the public administration but also the courts have reiterated that the house was not legal and therefore had to be demolished.
“This case shows that in Almería we do things correctly and that things in the immense majority of the municipalities are totally above board and legal.”

When asked whether he thought the Priors had been treated fairly, Sr Callejón replied: “I think this case shows we are in a country where the sentences handed out by the courts decide who is right and who is wrong.”

The council agreed to put the couple up at a hotel indefinitely, although this is small consolation for the Priors who said they have no money as they had invested all their savings on the house.
The news has sent shockwaves not just along the Spanish coastline but in Britain, too. British daily newspapers, including the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Times carried the story as well as television news teams.

A furious Michael Cashman, Labour’s MEP, who has led fact-finding missions on the illegal building scandal on the Costas, told Costa Almería News that he would raise the matter at the European parliament, and would be calling for a police investigation into the matter.

He accused the authorities of having failed the couple at every stage. He said: “This is a situation not of the Priors’ making and I will be calling in the parliament for an immediate police investigation undertaken within Andalucía.

“I have always found it inconceivable that elected officials should say ‘we knew nothing about it – it has nothing to do with us’. The regional governments always shift the blame back to the local authorities.”
His views are supported by a letter written in October 2007 by the Junta’s director general of urban planning, José Ortiz Mallol. A request by this reporter for the Junta to reveal the total number of illegal properties - was met with stony silence, except to say that councils were responsible for dealing with planning infractions.
The British consul in Málaga, Bruce McIntyre, described the incident as “unfortunate” but said it was a legal issue that should be resolved by lawyers.

Grave concerns were being voiced by Bob Preston, president of the AUAN, the pressure group formed by expats to fight against the demolition of properties in the Almanzora valley, following the demolition of the Priors’ home.

He said: “We’re very worried. We always said that this could be the thin edge of the wedge. Once you’ve got over the controversy of pulling a property down, the next one becomes less traumatic.”
Mr Preston described the latest development as “terrible” and said the association would be holding a meeting with a planning officer from the Junta this week to try to clarify the situation.

He said: “It’s baffling. I don’t think this government is playing by any rules that we understand.”

Investigators interview Amy's family and friends

Large-scale search efforts have turned up no leads

By Oliver McIntyre

Guardia Civil investigators in Mijas have been interviewing the family and friends of Amy Fitzpatrick, the 15-year-old Irish girl who has been missing since the night of January 1, in an effort to learn more about her activities in the days and hours leading up to her disappearance. They are trying to dig out any possible bit of information that could serve as a clue after last week’s large-scale search efforts – including sniffer dogs and helicopters – yielded no results.

On Wednesday officers spoke with Amy’s older brother Dean, 17, and previously had interviewed her mother, Audrey, and her mother’s boyfriend, David Mahon. Following the interview with Dean, the family spokesperson, Franco Rey, said that the family is becoming “more and more concerned” about Amy with each passing day, though they remain hopeful.

Friends who have been interviewed include Ashley Rubio, the girl whose house she left at around 10pm on New Year’s Day to walk home, as well as Ashley’s mother, Deborah Rose.

Investigators have also been analyzing Amy’s computer to check her contact lists and correspondence via e-mail, ‘messenger’ service or online ‘chatting’.

Wide-open investigation
Investigators are still looking at all potential explanations for Amy’s disappearance, from the possibility that she ran away from home to the possibility that she came into harms way while walking home from her friend’s house using a shortcut along a poorly lit track through some open wasteland between the Calypso and Riviera del Sol urbanisations.

Rock fall near Nerja beach

By John Peatey

Residents’ fears concerning the stability of the cliffs at the back of Burriana beach were again raised last weekend when a large rock was dislodged, probably as a result of heavy rainfall, crashing over 30 feet onto the pavement below.
Fortunately there were no pedestrians or vehicles in the area, below the Parador at the western end of the beach, at the time.

The area of cliffs that the 300-pound boulder fell from was the subject of extensive strengthening works recently, which has led to questions regarding the effectiveness of the expensive town hall-financed project.

Officer hit by ricocheting bullet in police chase

Shot was fired by the policeman’s own partner

By Oliver McIntyre

An Alhaurín el Grande police officer was accidentally shot in the leg by another officer during a dangerous high-speed chase last week. The pursuit began at 3am Thursday morning when officers attempted to pull over a suspicious vehicle in Avenida Gerald Brenan. Instead of stopping, the driver rammed the patrol car numerous times and fled, at times driving the wrong way on one-way streets. At the bend by the car park access in Calle Cruz he attempted to run down two officers who were on foot. They dove out of the way and one of them fired a shot at one of the car’s rear wheels, but the bullet ricocheted and hit his partner in the leg.

The officer was rushed to hospital, where he was treated for the non-life-threatening injury. Meanwhile, the driver got away, but just hours later, at around 6am, the chase was on again after he allegedly robbed a shop in Avenida Gerald Brenan and then a supermarket on the Carretera de Cártama. This time he was in a different car, which was later identified as stolen. The Guardia Civil and local police from neighbouring towns joined the chase, but the suspect once again got away, fleeing toward Málaga. He was finally caught by Guardia Civil officers in the city.

The man, a 25-year-old Alhaurín el Grande resident, has a police record and had been arrested just two days earlier for attempted robbery and released pending trial.

Robbery wave
Following the incident the town hall requested government officials to call a meeting of the local security council to address what it referred to as “a wave of robberies” in recent months in the Guadalhorce Valley. More than 100 robberies have been reported in the area in the last three months, it said.

Marbella to restrict mobile telephone antennas

The won’t be allowed near schools or health centres

By David Eade

Marbella town hall technicians have been working along with engineers from the mobile telephone companies to establish regulations for the placement of antennas in the municipality.

The new regulations will set a limit on the proximity of the antennas to schools, day-care centres, health centres and hospitals. The town hall is looking at the possibility of adding retirement homes to the list.

To date the specific distance to be maintained has not been established, but the councillor for commerce and the public highways, Alicia Jiménez, stated: “It is necessary to assure those who are most vulnerable that they will not receive radiation and to guarantee that these zones will not be in close proximity to antennas.”

It is also intended that antennas will be kept away from areas with a high population density.

The project, on which the town hall and telephone companies are working in close cooperation, is said to be one of the first of its kind. It is hoped that at the February meeting of the town council a draft proposal will be brought forward. At present there is no municipal ordinance governing the placement of antennas.
Councillor Jiménez stressed that the goal is to maintain the rights of the telephone companies to establish an efficient telecommunications network but at the same time to protect residents’ health and safety.

The companies will also be required to carry out periodic measurements of the electro-magnetic emissions from the antennas.

A number of municipalities have banned the erection of new antennas outright, which has resulted in insufficient coverage to guarantee service during the peak tourist months on the Costa del Sol. Sra Jiménez argues that working with the telecommunications sector is a far better approach.

Don Miguel Hotel could be auctioned to pay workers

Supreme court has ordered company to honour its debts

By David Eade

THE DON MIGUEL Hotel in Marbella could be auctioned off if the company that owns it does not follow Supreme Court instructions to pay its former workers. Sipsa was ordered to pay around 7.8 million euros by the courts but that has now been increased to 11.9 million euros because of the company’s non compliance.
The hotel, one of the most well known in Marbella, closed its doors in October 2005. The payments, ordered by the Supreme Court, relate to indemnities and salaries due to 80 of the 240 workers, tax and social service debts as well as monies owed to other creditors.

A spokesperson for the CCOO trade union in Málaga, Gonzalo Fuentes, stated that the latest Supreme Court decision meant that they would embargo the assets of the company. Sipsa had appealed an earlier Provincial Court hearing to the Supreme Court. However as that was rejected, Sr Fuentes is confident that the court would now order the sale of the hotel so that the workers could finally be paid.

Urban development
There had been speculation that Sipsa had closed the hotel in order to profit from the sale of the land for an urban development. However Marbella town hall at the time blocked any re-zoning of the land and the new draft local development plan (PGOU) states that is can solely be used as a hotel. That being the case CCOO believes that many international hotel chains will be interested in purchasing it.

Expats take interest in BenalmÁdena civic life

By Oliver McIntyre

A new citizen participation scheme in Benalmádena is proving that, given the opportunity, expats are interested in having a say in local civic issues.
Of the 33 questions or requests deposited over the last two months in the town hall’s new Buzón de Ciudadano suggestion boxes, five – or 15 per cent – were from foreign residents, according to the councillor in charge, Elena Galán.
The town hall takes special interest in the comments from foreign residents, said the councillor: “We try to hold personal meetings with them because we believe it is essential to facilitate their integration into Benalmádena’s civil life.”

Comments deposited in the boxes to date have included a wide range of issues, from suggestions on ways to save energy and water to requests for road improvements, new rubbish containers, or the installation of traffic signs. Installation has already begun on some of the requested signs, said the councillor.

Of the 33 comments submitted so far, all but six, which were anonymous, have been responded to with at least an acknowledgement of receipt. Fifteen have received a specific answer, while the other 12 are awaiting a response from the corresponding town hall department.

The comments deposited in the six suggestion boxes – located at the town hall, the two Tenencia de Alcaldía offices, the two Hogar del Jubilado pensioners’ centres and the Arroyo de la Miel library – are collected by the Citizen Participation department, which distributes them to the appropriate town hall department for response.

Councillor Galán also announced that in the coming days the town hall’s new Citizens’ Statute will receive final approval, allowing residents to participate directly in town council meetings with their questions and comments.

Robotic analysis cuts health test results from a w

By Dave Jamieson

New technology at the Axarquía Hospital in Vélez-Málaga means that most test results will be available to patients within a day. Five hundred and fifty thousand euros has been invested in an automated analysis clinic which has just started operating in the new emergency unit.

Until now, it has been normal for patients at health centres to wait for up to a week for the results of tests. Now, it is estimated that 90 per cent will be able to get those results the day after the samples have been taken, while the results of 90 per cent of emergency analyses will be available within an hour.

At the heart of the new system is a fully automated robotic platform which avoids the need for samples to be manipulated by staff. It can presently handle 800 tests per day, although it has the capacity to double that figure.

The new location of the 430 square metre laboratory means that the hospital, which serves a population of 145,000 in the Axarquía, has been able to separate the departments of microbiology and haematology, as well as expanding and improving the out-patients area.

Visiting the new facility last week, the health delegate at the provincial government, María Antigua Escalera, said that the development also opened the possibility of creating at Day Hospital at Vélez-Málaga which would negate the need for certain patients to go into the city of Málaga for tests. She said that a 1.75 million euro project is under consideration for a 14 bed unit to treat oncology, pneumology and digestive cases.

Tivoli sale may be on the rocks

Falling through of deal could further delay Pueblosol garage

By Oliver McIntyre

Questions have been raised over the sale of Benalmádena’s Tivoli World amusement park after the deadline to finalise the sale, originally announced in April of last year, expired on December 11 without the transaction being closed.
Reports have indicated that financial problems faced by the park’s owner, Rafael Gómez, may have prevented him from meeting the conditions of the contract, which included the sale not only of Tivoli but also a number of other properties throughout Andalucía valued at a total of 374 million euros. The contract stipulated that Sr Gómez had to hand over all of the properties free of debts and encumbrances.

Sr Gómez’s company Arenal 2000 recently reported that the sale had been “almost entirely completed,” but the buyer, Madrid-based developer Tremón, has not made an official statement indicating whether it still intends to move forward with the deal, either in full or part.

Sr Gómez is understood to have been facing financial problems following his arrest in 2006 in the ‘Malaya’ corruption investigation in Marbella – after which he was released on 300,000 euros bail – exacerbated by a drying up of credit for developers due to the real estate downturn. In December the business mogul sold off his majority stake in Benalmádena’s Xanit hospital despite assurances earlier in the year that he had no plans to sell.

Sr Gómez bought Tivoli in December 2004 for a reported 30 million euros, announcing an ambitious expansion and modernisation plan. The expansion never moved forward and only relatively modest improvements were made at the park.

Pueblosol garage
If the Tivoli sale package indeed falls through, it will likely affect another important project in Benalmdáena. Just weeks ago the mayor, Javier Carnero, announced that Tremón was preparing to restart work on the long-stalled Pueblosol garage in Arroyo de la Miel, one of the properties included in the Tivoli sale.

A third of consumer complaints are against telepho

By David Eade

Problem with telephone companies are the most common gripe of Fuengirola residents who contact the local consumer office. The Oficina Municipal de Información al Consumidor (OMIC) has issued its year-end report for 2007 and complaints with telephone and internet providers top the list.

Commonly reported problems include a lack of clarity in telephone service contracts, the cost of wideband internet service, difficulty in cancelling various services and problems related to the repair of faulty equimpment.

Of the 853 complaints from consumers handled by the OMIC last year, 288 were related to the telecommunications sector. Way behind in second place were problems with public transport, with 48 complaints, followed by hotels, restaurants and housing.

There were also many problems related to the sale and repair of domestic electrical appliances. These were the subject of 32 and 35 complaints, respectively, which combined would propel them in to second place.
Although the OMIC report is confined to Fuengirola, its results mirror those of virtually every consumer organisation in Spain. The telecommunications sector nearly always monopolises ‘top billing’, with the domestic appliance trade not far behind.

Eastern resorts call for equal support from Junta

Councillors form pressure group to fight for benefits similar to west coast resorts

By Dave Jamieson

Axarquía towns are demanding improved investment in tourism for the eastern coast. They have formed a pressure group to fight for benefits similar to the millions of euros promised to west coast resorts.

Nerja, Torrox, Vélez-Málaga, Frigiliana and Algarrobo all have town halls which are not under the control of the PSOE. Their councillors for tourism created the working party last December in response to the favouritism which they perceive that the PSOE, which governs both the Andalucía region and the country, shows towards its own town halls.

At a meeting last week, Torrox’s councillor José Pérez García described the Junta’s plans to incentivise tourism as “a smokescreen which does not meet our needs.” He said that what is required is something similar to the region’s Plan Qualifica which promises an investment of 300 million euros west of Málaga in the form of direct grants to an area stretching from Torremolinos to Manilva.
A separate meeting in Nerja last Thursday brought the five tourism councillors together with their mayors, presidents of tourist associations and the commercial sector with the object of generating support for their demands to the Junta. Nerja’s major, José Alberto Armijo, said that they would not adopt a “posture of confrontation” but a “defence of the area.” Francisco Delgado Bonilla, mayor of Vélez-Málaga, said the Junta should exercise “positive discrimination,” towards the eastern costas, while the mayor of Algarrobo, Natasha Rivas, cited upgrades to sanitation systems, expansion of the hotel base and improvements to roads and railways amongst the pressing needs for the Axarquía.

Further meeting
A further meeting was due to be held yesterday in Vélez-Málaga, ahead of an appointment which the group has with the director general of tourism next Monday. They are to meet Antonio Muñoz in Sevilla to put forward points of concern and will argue their case for improved support for the eastern coast.

Officers accused of hiding traffic violations

By David Eade

has enveloped Marbella, once again involving the local police. It is alleged that one of the force’s top inspectors, Francisco Javier Martín, the former police chief, Rafael del Pozo, and another officer, Carlos Rubio, hid three traffic violations so that those accused would not face prosecution. The matter, which involves mislaying a traffic ticket, hiding a drink driving summons and not acting upon a motorcycle incident, is now being investigated by a Marbella judge. Inspector Francisco Javier Martin is one of the key officers in the local police. Ironically he is now in charge of traffic offences as well as being responsible for the police training school and the plains clothes division. Rafael del Pozo was the police chief at the time of the alleged offences but was replaced after his implication in the ‘Malaya’ corruption scandal at Marbella town hall.

The third officer, Carlos Rubio, is the local police personnel co-ordinator and the whistleblower in this latest case. He now finds himself also under investigation because his version of events differs from that of an internal enquiry. However he has appeared before the judge examining the affair and has reiterated his allegations.

Four more accused in Malaya case
The judge in the Malaya corruption case, Óscar Pérez, has been questioning this week four people newly implicated in the investigations. They are a lawyer largely dealing with property transactions, a fiscal advisor to businessman Massimo Filippa, and two businessmen involved in the property sector.

Benalmádena coves could be turned into 'natural po

Coastal authority is studying the plan

By Oliver McIntyre

The Ministry of the Environment’s coastal authority is working on a plan that could see five coves along the Benalmádena coastline turned into ‘natural swimming pools’.

The pools “would represent an incredibly alluring attraction for these small beaches,” said Juan José Jiménez, the town’s councillor for beaches.
The project, still in the study phase, would involve the installation of a sort of retaining wall to turn the coves into pools, which in addition to creating a tourist attraction would help to protect the beaches, said the councillor.

The coastal authority’s top official in the zone, Juan Carlos Fernández Rañada, described the scheme to the councillor when the two met last week to discuss a number of issues surrounding the town’s beaches. The first topic was the immediate action plan for fixing the damage caused to local beaches in recent winter storms, which will consist of the removal of washed-up rocks, followed by the replacement of lost sand.

Breakwaters on the way
Sr Fernández also informed the councillor that the long-awaited plan for the installation of breakwaters to better protect the town’s beaches from winter storm damage is making progress. The project, which calls for semi-submerged breakwaters between Malapesquera and Santa Ana beaches and between Santa Ana and Torrequebrada, has been sent to Madrid, and after a public comment period could get final approval in around eight months, with work starting in early 2009.

British murderers arrested

Killers of a 25-year-old Briton in Mallorca

By James Parkes

TWO BRITISH men arrested by Guardia Civil at Palma de Mallorca airport have confessed to the killing of 26-year-old compatriot Daniel Hastelow in Magaluf during the early hours of Sunday.

The two men were arrested as they were about to take a flight to the UK.
Richard Henry R, 35, confessed to the crime saying he did it because Daniel Hastelow had threatened to kill him during a previous fight between the two men in a local bar.

Fellow detainee Paul Anthony G admitted the facts and confessed to having cooperated in the crime.

Other witnesses have described the victim as a regular troublemaker who often got into fights around the resort.

Crime scene
The incident took place at around 4am on Sunday at the victim’s home in Apartamentos Playa Mar, Magaluf, within the town of Calvià.

Emergency services received a call from a young Briton, allegedly a friend of the victim, informing that he had been attacked at his apartment.

Police entered the apartment and found the victim seriously injured after being stabbed repeatedly in the chest and back. They gave the victim first aid but when paramedics arrived they were unable to save his life.

Two witnesses questioned by police said they were inside the apartment when the attack took place. According to their statements, the attackers forced the door open and attacked the Briton.

Both attackers were identified and arrested at Son Sant Joan airport.
Police are now searching for the knife used to commit the crime, which the detainees claim to have thrown into the sea.

Briton arrested after smuggling hashish in motor h OME

The man was returning to Spain from Morocco

By David Eade

THE GUARDIA CIVIL have arrested a British and Spanish national after they attempted to smuggle a consignment of hashish into Spain hidden in a motor home. The officers swooped at a control point at Tarifa harbour after a ferry arrived from Tangier.
The find was made by the Guardia Civil’s fiscal section who were suspicious that the motor home could be carrying drugs. A suspicion that was confirmed after a minuscule search uncovered two double hidden compartments in the vehicle.
Hidden inside the compartments were packages containing 1,249 kilograms of hashish. It is estimate that its market value is over 1,7 million euros.

Benalmádena resident
The officers arrested the two occupants of the motor home on public health charges. The Briton is 58 years old and lives in Benalmádena. The Spaniard is aged 66 years and is from San Lorenzo del Escoril in Madrid.
Apart from holding the pair the officers have also confiscated the motor home and the drugs which are being held at the disposition of the court.