Who will weep for the Magaluf Mother’s?

On any morning,

as you walk up the Carrer Punta Balena,

the stench of vomit competes with the smell of disinfectant.

Another night has gone and a new day beckons to deliver another hedonistic opportunity, not just for those who have just left school, but it also seems, for those in their 30’s and 40’s.

Magaluf, like many popular resorts has fashioned itself around the promise of a no-holds barred experience. Consumers bring not only tales from Magaluf, but also from other popular resorts on Tenerife, Cyprus and other holiday destinations.

Stories told are usually delivered by victims or parent’s or brothers and sisters, often either reliving some horror or humiliation, or trying to understand or make sense of their loved-one’s last hours and the mystery that surrounds their movements.

Stories such as, the young woman, abducted in Magaluf, completely unaware of her surroundings with no knowledge of what was done to her, except that her cash and cards had disappeared and that she was ‘dumped’ in a forest some 35kms away from the resort.

Another experience relates to a young man, found dead on a Tenerife beach. He was found naked from the waist down.. The family had managed to piece together that he had been with some people, withdrew some cash and had apparently taken drugs. The family received little or no help from the UK Foreign Office, the resort police, the travel company or indeed, the UK Coroner. The only clue that they had was found in the box of clothes returned by the Guardia Civil, where they discovered that the phone found next to his body, was not his; a vital piece of evidence? Not so, at every turn they were frustrated because here was just another drunk Brit; no luxury of being able to rely on good detective work and International laws and agreements!

In another case, a young man was visiting a nightclub when he became friendly with a young woman. Little did he know that this woman, was the girlfriend of the bouncer. When the bouncer saw what was happening, he threw the young man out of the club. As the young man walked away from the club, a group of men started to follow him, chased him back to the ‘sanctuary’ of his hotel and threw him over the balcony; fortunately he survived but with serious injuries.

I have spoken with many young holidaymakers and their families and all recount terrible experiences, from being robbed at the cash till, to having their drinks spiked; some just barely having the presence of mind to find themselves a medical centre before the outcome of their intoxication becomes worse.

On speaking with travel reps, it is clear from those who continue working after one season, that the holidaymaker is manipulated from the moment the aircraft doors open. At the opening of the main season, I have been told by those same reps that bars and clubs will apparently deliver to senior reps, a carrier-bag of cash; this ‘cash’ is designed to be an inducement for the reps of that company to ‘introduce’ the arriving holidaymakers to those same bars and clubs.

Seasoned reps describe the arrival of young people as ‘cash-cows’; ripe for the picking!

Those who arrive late at night are awoken in the early hours to some ‘faux’ emergency, only to be given a presentation of trips, pub-crawls and tours - the objective being to secure as much money from our younglings as quickly as possible. Reps who introduce groups of young people to a bar are provided with a small kick-back; providing enough to supplement their meagre income.

Young people are subjected to a sophisticated operation of extracting money from them; it starts with the first drink - accompanied by a ‘free’ drink. I have tasted one of these drinks; the one I tasted was frankly disgusting and was probably better applied to strip paint!

Spiked drinks and attentive staff soon increase the young person’s vulnerability, no matter how well they think they can drink in the UK, nothing will prepare them for this. Strip clubs and tattoo-parlours provide another avenue to extract monies; young people, already heavily intoxicated, easily hand over their credit-cards only to find later that an ‘additional’ €200-300 has been added to the bill. Tattoo’s are liberally applied at a cost to the unwitting; many waking up to find new markings and messaging applied to their foreheads. Young women are prey to sexual assaults both from their fellow intoxicated holidaymakers and from those who invite them to commit sexual acts on the dance-floor of some bar or club. Photographs and video’s abound and are circulated, not just for titilation but for cash. Drugs are freely available and openly sold to those who willingly partake.

The sceptical will by now be howling that they could just say ‘no’; a fair comment. However, the vast majority of young holidaymakers have never been into an environment such as this and they are quickly intoxicated by spiked and extra drinks; all sense of control is lost, simply because they are not physically or mentally prepared for what is happening to them. It is easy to be critical of our youth; it is quite another thing to experience the extent of this type of tourist operation.

The other side to our youngling vulnerability lies also with those young people who decide to leave the UK for that job in the sun. Enticing websites appear to hop from entity to entity (the last time I investigated, the main one was apparently based in Tenerife) and promises a carefree life; a life of working in the sun, lovely accommodation and pay to boot!

The reality revealed is that young Brits arriving for that job were placed into a shabby apartment building and in one case up to eight young people sharing a two-bedroomed apartment. For some, they had to wait for several weeks before they were provided with work and that work usually started with them being ‘employed’ as an ‘enticer’ for some bar or club, relying on numbers they could capture to deliver a meagre commission. Some have revealed that after 4/5 weeks, they simply came home, penniless and humiliated. Other’s stuck it out a little longer and suffered greater humiliations.

Against this backdrop, British newspapers revel in the exposure of a shameful British youth; a disgrace to the Nation! By producing these stories, the British press reveals its own inherent laziness by a lack of investigation into the background of these resorts.

There is an argument that by choosing to travel to these resorts, young people are willingly exposing themselves to that risk or they just simply want a brief shot at an hedonistic experience; is life so dull in the UK? A recent article by Daniel Briggs highlights the many reasons why young people may choose to visit these ‘sinbins’; the premise of the article does indeed offer a glimpse into their rationale. The article exposes their ‘dreams’, promoted and perpetuated by a ‘Love Island’ mentality, brochures and a political authority.

If everything I have written were not enough to make people think about the choices of holiday destination they make, then there is the issue of crime to consider. Crime is of great concern to the locals; the ordinary people of Majorca. There are some, at great personal cost, who have revealed information on this criminal control. Some protest on the streets, but are cautioned that they are hurting the tourism product and therefore the local economy! One person described how they would not go public, because they would end up as fish-bait in the Bay of Palma. 

Many of the popular resorts used by young people appear to endure a level of lawlessness, with the holidaymaker being the fall-guy. In Magaluf, there is the continual problem of what is referred to as ‘mugging prostitutes’. These are usually economic migrants or refugees from Africa who ply ‘their trade’ in the resort. Whilst prostitution may well be a vehicle for survival, there is a practice of attracting a young man, taking him to the ATM and persuading the already intoxicated youth to extract more cash than is needed; in return, no service is provided, the cash is grabbed (sometimes with the card) and they run away. These ‘mugging prostitutes’ not only operate in Magaluf but also in other resorts on the island. One worrying aspect of this practice is the absolute failure to recognise that whatever their origin or reason for being in Majorca, someone is controlling them and yet, the xenophobic rationale is in full throttle rather than examining the how these women are being controlled and the abuse that is being perpetrated on them.

But let’s consider the nature of the crimes being committed; there are the crimes surely of administering noxious substances through questionable drinks? There are the crimes of extracting additional cash from a credit-card so ‘willingly’ handed over? There are crimes of sexual assault and abuse? There are crimes of violence? There are crimes of drug-dealing? There are the crimes against travel insurance companies? You would have thought such crimes would concern any resort; who could imagine that amongst these resorts and azure seas, so much lay hidden from the holiday brochure?

My own simple investigation revealed that at the heart of some of these tourist operations, some British people were allegedly instrumental in the commission of these crimes. When I spoke with a senior Foreign Office diplomat, he expressed surprise at the depth of the experiences of UK holidaymakers and naively wanted me to provide him with the names of my contacts and of the alleged British perpetrators. When I suggested that the correct course of action should be for him to speak with the National Crime Agency (because it was likely they had information about criminal movements in Europe) and they in turn could talk to me. His response? He simply looked at me and walked away!

When you visit the island of Majorca, the one thing that strikes a ‘non-holidaymaker’ is just how much the island relies on tourism. Everywhere you look there is evidence of infrastructure, sponsorship, money and political power. The power of what has and may be continuing to happen on the island, is seen through the arrest and bailing of one the island’s most notorious nightclub owners. A recent article on the consequences of his arrest reveals a commentary and set of allegations, that not only cuts to the heart of the political and commercial establishment, but seeps down to the very base-level of tourism operations. 

The last time I visited Magaluf, it was revealed to me that the Chief of Police had been arrested for alleged corruption charges and on that very morning, he had been released from prison on bail and subsequently suspended from duty (at the time of writing this article, it is not clear if he has been exonerated or has stood trial and either convicted or acquitted). Concern was also expressed to me that some police-officers also owned some of the very establishments used by holidaymakers; apparently other police officers have also been arrested.

Corruption appears to be epidemic. When the new Podomos government came to power on the island, they discovered years of commercial and contractual abuse applied to infrastructure. Standards in public life have been laid bare, but so too are the standards by which we expect our young people to be protected.

This year alone, 3 young people have been found on the ground at an apartment block in Magaluf. The ‘sport’ of balconing is blamed. Where death or serious injury occurs, authorities have in the past been direct in their blaming of young people for their fate (it was sometimes suggested that they were usually drunk, a drug-user, took a risk and in one case, the holidaymaker was accused of being in an incestuous relationship with her dead brother!).

Relatives tell of very little counter-investigation being carried out - no questions are asked about the quality of a complex, does a complex satisfy regulations?

Another key question concerns licences. In another country, a young man was found floating at the bottom of a hotel swimming pool; subsequent pressured investigations revealed that the hotel did not have a licence for the pool and had no licence to operate a hotel - this was a hotel sold by a major tour operator to young people, who had presumably carried out the appropriate due diligence?

And so, yet another family, another Mother, following the death of her son, begins the journey of her ‘new-normal’.

Thomas Channon's Mother Ceri, has understandably been 'angered' by what she sees as deficits at the complex where her son met his death. Balance that against the commentary from the Council of Magaluf, who have apparently declared buildings in the resort as 'absolutely safe'; they also claimed that buildings were 'regularly checked'. This same council official also claimed that falls were a 'direct result' of the abuse of alcohol.

Like many parents before her, Ceri commented: 

"[the resort] need[s] to change their attitudes towards our children [they were not] a means to generate a tourist industry [the children] deserve care, consideration and dignity”.

The two positions could not be more of a contrast and Ceri’s comments echo what I have heard from family members many times.

In similar circumstances, the UK Foreign Office and Travel Company statements also offer a 'tea and sympathy' approach, offering nothing more than a repeat of the off-the-shelf phrases, heard so many times before.

The stock answer, sometimes with an offer of private meetings with family members, results only in a listening exercise, but not providing any resolute action to deal with the obvious problems.

Of course, UK Authorities will no doubt point to their many initiatives, one in particular stands out in Magaluf, where two UK police were deployed and apparently provided an air of 'familiarity'; the officers found themselves with no powers and the butt of media attention; a PR disaster. Stunts simply do not offer the kind of information and protection our young people deserve; it is arguable that all involved in the tourist product are at least guilty of looking the other way in the face of such organised complacency or indeed criminality?

The story of Magaluf is not unique; it is a story of many popular resorts, particularly those that attract young people.

It is a story of business, possible corruption, designed to make a quick buck for the few. In its wake are the stories of countless young people, battered, abused and sometimes paying the ultimate price.

Is it any wonder that local people are protesting about the rape of their living environment; that so many who protest at the massification of travel are branded as extremists, when all the while, travel companies and the authorities are complicit in the murky world of tourist development?

The tears and anger of Ceri Channon are real, but in the face of such financial and political power, her voice will probably be no more than an echo of protest to this power.

The indifference to her grief has been replicated many times; all the parents I have spoken with, from whatever resort, now living their version of hell, are all Magaluf Mothers; the only way things will change is if we help to catch their tears and ensure their sorrow and anger is heard.