A newlywed Derry couple have recounted how a planned five day break in Spain turned into a ‘nightmare’ after they were approached by the British security services.
The couple who asked not to be named were given the holiday as a wedding present last November and set out last Saturday to fly to Alicante from Belfast.
The husband related what happened next. He said: “This was to be the second part of our honeymoon. We had no problem at Belfast and arrived in Alicante. I approached the passport control point and as soon as I handed over my passport I was surrounded by Spanish police.
“They asked me to come with them and said I should co-operate with them or I would be arrested.”
The wife said: “At this stage two police women stood with me and one of them said that it was a routine and my husband would be back in ten minutes.”
The husband added: “I was taken into a room and two of the Spanish policemen stood at the door. There was one man sitting at a desk and two others sitting down.
“My first thought was that these other two were in the same situation as me but when I sat down on of them started talking.
“He said his name was Phil and he spoke with a local accent. He said he was from the security services. The other guy had a Belfast accent and the man at the desk was English.”
The man continued: “The man called Phil did the talking and he started recounting details of my life.
“He knew everything about me. About how I was a republican. He talked about things in my past, people I knew, people I knocked about with. He knew we had been to Italy after our wedding but said they decided not to approach me then.
“He kept on about how we could work together, how we could be friends and how we could save lives together. He said he was offering security for me and my family.
“One thing I noticed was that he kept using the word ‘dismiss’ all the time. He kept repeating ‘don’t dismiss me’.
“Finally he told me not to tell my wife and said he would give me a number for me to ring the next day and we could meet in a local supermarket. He also said that they could make this hard for me.”
The man claimed that the number was placed inside his passport but that when he retrieved the passport he let it fall to the ground.
His wife takes up the story. She said: “We were staying at a friend of mine’s villa and there was someone to meet us so we went to the car park and they followed us out.
“When we drove out they followed us and the journey took about 40 minutes and they followed us the whole way occasionally flashing their lights just to let us know they were there.
“When we arrived it was a gated community so they couldn’t come in but they waited outside and when we came out they followed us to a bar we went to.
“I was terrified, it was an absolute nightmare.”
She went on: “The next day we stayed in the villa and this one guy spent the whole time walking up and down on the footpath in front of the house. They didn’t care that we saw them.
“That night we went out for a meal and would have been away for an hour when we returned they had somehow managed to get in and had left the phone number over the lock.
“That was it for me, I just wanted to go home.”
The couple made arrangements to go home on the Monday and as the husband related there was an unexpected twist.
He said: “We were not due to leave until Thursday so when we went to the airport on Monday who was standing at the gate about to board the same plane but Phil and his mate?
“They nearly died when they saw us walking towards the gate and they both cleared off.”
The couple’s solicitor Mr. Ciaran Shields said that this was the third case his firm had been involved in where people had been approached while abroad.
Mr. Shields dialled the number given to the Derry man but it went straight to messaging.
He added: “Over the past year or so we know of three cases where people have been approached by the security services to work for them.
“There seems to be a pattern emerging where they are approaching people who are out of their normal environment and might feel vulnerable.
“We will be making a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal about this approach. That is a slow process but it seems to be the only redress people have. These people are not offering security, they are offering a life of stress and misery.”