Sunday, November 16, 2014

Arrested for arson. Flung into stinking cells. Stung for £40k. How a Greek holiday became a Stygian nightmare for blameless British couple

A British teacher was jailed in France and Greece, handcuffed and forced to pay for his drinking water when he was held under a controversial European Arrest Warrant after wrongly being accused of starting a forest fire.

Keith Hainsworth, 64, an Ancient Greek tutor, was seized at Calais as he and his wife Pippa returned from a weekend in Paris last month.

He was thrown in a French police cell, banned from speaking to his wife or a lawyer, accused of ‘malicious arson’ in Greece with his wife as an accomplice – and branded an ‘environmental terrorist’ by a French judge.

It led to a five-week nightmare which culminated in Mr Hainsworth being flown to Greece from France under armed guard, thrown in a notorious Athens jail and then transported on a nine-hour journey in a ‘cattle truck’ prison transfer wagon with menacing Greek criminals before he was finally freed and returned home on Tuesday.

The Greek judge who ordered Mr Hainsworth’s arrest admitted a mistake had been made – but the couple still face the threat of legal action in the country, where arson carries a ten-year jail sentence.

There are an estimated 3,000 fires in Greece’s tinder box forests each year. No one was hurt and no property was damaged in the one that led to Mr Hainsworth’s detention.

But the couple now face a bill of up to £40,000 for legal fees and other costs. Last night, they backed calls for Britain to stay out of the European Arrest Warrant (EWA), which left them – and the British Government – unable to stop Mr Hainsworth’s ordeal.

In fact – to illustrate how powerless the British authorities are in the face of EAW – Mr Hainsworth was first detained after being handed over to French police by British Customs officials, who admitted there was nothing they could do because they were on French soil.

Mr Hainsworth studied Classics at Oxford, and had a successful career in advertising, working on a Lemsip TV advert, before reverting to his first love – Latin and Ancient Greek – a decade ago. He now gives private tuition in the subjects.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday in the kitchen of their Victorian terraced home in Hampton, South-West London, Mr Hainsworth said of his ordeal: ‘It was disgraceful. I couldn’t see how I was going to get out of it. Far better people than me have been locked up in Athens, like Socrates, and many never came out.’

He kept his spirits up with poetry, spotting familiar Greek ruins through the window grille of his prison lorry, and making self-mocking quips about his resemblance to actor Jack Nicholson.

Mrs Hainsworth, a school governor, added: ‘I was horrified. In Britain you are innocent until proved guilty – in Greece it seems you are treated as guilty from the start.’

Dressed in burgundy trousers and with an Oxford blue scarf draped round his neck, urbane Mr Hainsworth is an unlikely pyromaniac.

His ordeal started in July when the couple toured the Peloponnese region – they holiday in Greece most years – in a hire car.

‘A few miles down the road Pippa said, "Do you smell smoke?" ’ recalled Mr Hainsworth. ‘Her nostrils are notoriously more sensitive than mine.’

‘She said, "Shall we call the fire brigade?" Then we heard a siren, so assuming they were on their way, we drove on and stopped to take some photographs of goats a few miles down the road – hardly the actions of criminals trying to scarper.’

They went home as planned a week later. It was not until three months later – on October 7 – that the long-extinguished forest fire came back to haunt them.

They had been to Paris to celebrate Mrs Hainsworth’s birthday – and so ‘horseracing nut’ Mr Hainsworth could attend the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamps in Paris. After handing their passports to the British Customs officer on their way back via the Eurotunnel, the official summoned French police.

‘The French said, "You’re under arrest. The Greek authorities have accused you of arson,’ said Mr Hainsworth. ‘It was Kafkaesque, amazing.’ The impotent British officials squirmed: ‘I’m sorry, we have to do this because we are on French territory. It’s an EAW.’

Mr Hainsworth was arrested for ‘deliberate and malicious arson with others’ – the ‘others’ being refined Mrs Hainsworth, although she was never detained.

He was put in a police cell with a hole-in-the-ground lavatory, five ‘disgusting smelly blankets,’ and no pillow nor mattress. ‘The French said, "Don’t bother with a lawyer, they can’t do anything for you." ’

His ‘wonderful’ wife booked into a local hotel, drummed up a lawyer and alerted their family, but was banned from seeing Mr Hainsworth or even giving him his pyjamas and toothbrush.

Meanwhile, in the time-honoured fashion of an Englishman abroad in a spot of bother, her husband used his native sang froid to ease the tension. When one sceptical policemen briefly asked if it could be mistaken identity, droll Mr Hainsworth replied: ‘I’m afraid not – there aren’t many Keith Hainsworths.’

He also latched on to the French word ‘ressembler’ (resemble), telling them that his friends used to say he bore a passing ‘ressemblance’ to Jack Nicholson – ‘when I was younger, mind.’

‘One of the policemen charged off shouting, "We’ve got Jack Nicholson down the corridor!"’ he said.

Seventeen hours later, Mr Hainsworth was led out of his grim cell and taken to a court hearing in Douai, 90 miles away.

He had been warned the French could not overturn the EAW. But he was outraged when the French prosecutor demanded he be kept in prison until he was extradited to Greece, accusing him of ‘environmental terrorism’.

The French authorities later relented and released him from custody on the condition he stayed at the Paris home of his brother-in-law and did not return to the UK.

Mrs Hainsworth enlisted the support of their local MP, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Tory anti-EAW campaigner Dominic Raab, and the British Embassy in Greece. But they could not stop the EAW juggernaut.

On November 7, Mr Hainsworth was frogmarched across the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris by two Greek policeman who flanked him on the back row of the plane to Athens. ‘Even when I went to the loo, they stood guard outside,’ he recalls. On arrival in Athens he was dumped in the city’s notorious Petrou Ralli detention centre, where the ‘inhumane overcrowding and lice infestation’ has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Hainsworth said: ‘It was like a dungeon, a Stygian gloom.’ He had a cell with bars, a tomb-like slab for a bed and no light. But he had held on to his book of W.H. Auden poems.

He said: ‘The other prisoners must have thought I was loony, sitting there in the half light in my brogues, a ghostly figure reading my Auden.’ One of the poems, Shock, is about an incident at Vienna’s Schwechat Flughafen airport which includes the lines: ‘I’m stumped by what happened to upper-middle-class me…when I, I, I, if you please, at Schwechat Flughafen was frisked by a cop for weapons.’ Mr Hainsworth recalled saying to himself: ‘I never thought I could be treated like this either, Mr Auden.’

He was given no food and forced to pay for water. ‘The lavatories were disgusting. The stench of the blankets was overpowering.’

After 15 hours in the cell, he was taken out the next morning and put in a ‘cattle truck’ with dozens of other prisoners. ‘There was a corridor down the middle of the truck with steel cages. The other men were shouting and banging on the walls. It was Bedlam. The man next to me was like a suckling pig, constantly rolling cigarettes and smoking. Not good for my asthma.

‘When we pulled out of the dungeon, I thought this is my Fidelio moment,’ he mused. (In Beethoven’s Fidelio opera, Leonore, posing as prison guard Fidelio, rescues her husband from death in prison.)

Mr Hainsworth was subjected to a nine-hour journey through Greece, bounced off his metal bench as the truck lurched en route to the town of Gythion, near where the forest fire raged, and where, he hoped, his case would be heard and he would be freed.

En route the truck came to a halt at a police station in Napflio, an historic port the Hainsworths have often visited to see the famous Ancient Greek ruins Tiryns. ‘We’d seen the barbed wired prison next door but I never expected to get an inside view,’ he joked.

He was joined by three intimidating youths who cracked their knuckles at him and demanded money. Eventually, he arrived at Gythion, hands cuffed behind his back, hungry, parched and bedraggled. But his sense of humour was intact as he ribbed his Greek lawyer, Georgios Pyromallis, about his name – ‘pyro’ being Greek for fire.

In court Mr Hainsworth was confronted by two women judges, including one who had issued the initial arrest warrant. He observed drily: ‘I said, "I’m ashamed to say I don’t speak modern Greek. You could say it’s a blot on my character".’

The judges were so alarmed by his condition they insisted he had a meal before the hearing – and admitted the EAW should not have been issued. ‘I had been treated like an animal, now the judge was mothering me. It was like Alice In Wonderland. I half expected the Mad Hatter to bring in the tea,’ said Mr Hainsworth.

It was then that he discovered that he had been reported to police by a local truck driver who passed his car near the forest fire. When the man was named in court, there were knowing giggles: he was a well-known mischief maker.

The air of farce continued as the embarrassed judge suggested Mr Hainsworth’s ‘adventure’ would make a good film. Talk turned to who should play him. By now, fed and watered and confident he was about to be freed, he suggested – naturally – Jack Nicholson.

The judges cancelled the EAW but are yet to formally close the case, and could still recall the Hainsworths to Greece.

Mr Pyromallis told The Mail on Sunday the Greek judges had blundered – ‘Unfortunately some use the EAW as a first resort instead of last’ – and revealed the whole sorry saga could have been avoided.

It transpired that Greek police obtained the Hainsworths’ names and number from the car hire firm on the day of the fire. They could have phoned him then and cleared the whole thing up,’ said Mr Pyromallis. ‘Some Greek judges overreact.’

Greek police denied Mr Hainsworth had been mistreated.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE or here

No comments: