The forthcoming protest rally in Benidorm, which is taking place on Monday is certainly causing ripples at the Town Hall. The event has been instigated by British ex-pat Karen Cowles in order to “Protect our Tourism”. Crime is nothing new and certainly not isolated to Benidorm - all high tourist destinations suffer the same. But many are now put off coming due to the reputation it is gaining of rising crime rates and lack of action taken by the police and authorities – just take a look at some of the travel forums. Michael Reynolds, a regular holidaymaker from Liverpool set up a Facebook page “Benidorm Robberies, Muggings and the Pea Men” following a bad experience here – he tried posting on a number of Benidorm sites but was banned so set up his own. It was done purely to forewarn and alert others – not scaremonger.The peamen continue to scam people everyday and drink sellers walk up and down the beaches shouting "fanta limon, coca cola" or trying to entice you with a cocktail made in very unhygenic conditions!
Brits make up a high proportion of visitors to the resort, without whom many businesses would certainly fold. Over five million holidaymakers visit Benidorm every year and this campaign is aimed at making the streets and beaches safer, to ensure that they continue to return and enjoy all that it has to offer. It is not just a summer resort - even today, exactly five weeks before Christmas the beaches were still busy (as pictured)... it really is an all year round destination.
A petition collecting signatures of both residents and holidaymakers is gaining momentum, copies of which can be found at many places. I walked around with Karen last week, speaking to holidaymakers around Calle Gerona and was shocked at how many had been mugged – all “big burly men” so supposedly unlikely victims. David Benjamen from Lancashire was passing the Square and was robbed by 2 “ladies” whilst jumped on by a couple of bouncers who got away with €250 plus 70GBP. I would never have guessed from his upbeat lively banter and he said to me “Bet you´ve never seen a black man with a black eye”! It´s not his first time here and he said won´t be his last either despite the incident. But I was really concerned that he hadn´t reported it to the police.
Another chap I spoke to outside Tiki City, Alan Banks from Stoke had €800 taken off him – yet again by two ladies at 4am. He admits he was a little worse for wear but again – unreported. Police and the Town Hall are constantly quoting a decline in crime figures. It is a big issue that the majority of muggings are not reported to the police therefore official crime figures are not reflective of the true situation. Both cited that it´s too complicated a process, too far away, language barrier etc knowing that they wouldn´t get their money back so a waste of time. Being out late and getting tipsy is no crime – in fact it is practically encouraged here.
Both of them signed the petition but for those not currently here there is an online petition, which can be signed at: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-benidorm-crime.html. Only last week an estimated 40,000 attended the British Fancy Dress Day here, highlighting the importance of their continued loyalty.
On Tuesday organizer Karen Cowles was accompanied by David Garcia Cook – owner of Tony´s Exchange within the Indoor Market and creator of the Facebook Page “British Benidorm” to meet with Josep Bigorre of the Compromis Party. They had a productive morning and he is very supportive of the objective and intentions of the rally. Afterwards Karen met with Lorenzo Martinez, Councillor responsible for Security and Safety in Benidorm, where they held a frank discussion on the situation. Unfortunately he was urgently called away to address the “tsunami alert” and so no conclusion was agreed upon. By coincidence (or not) Karen asked why a restraining order for repeat offenders, ie Peamen couldn´t be enforced here as it is in Madrid and Barcelona - and the following day it was announced that the Town Hall are looking to bring it in! The new administration has already announced that the SATE office will be moved next to the tourist information centre, opposite the Flash hotel in the Rincon next year - they are waiting for the new 2016 budget to allocate funding.
Things moved swiftly from there and on Wednesday she had a meeting with Jose Antonio Corachan – the Town Hall representative of the Neighbourhood Association and also spokesperson for “Citizens Platform 2014” together with “OCC” – Organization for the Control against Corruption. Jose Antonio is a retired Spanish police officer so has a very clear and detailed understanding of the system, which is a great advantage.
Six Spanish Associations are also fully supporting the event, vitally important to present a united front as all nationalities are affected – not just the British. Alarmingly it is not just isolated to the Rincon area as many imagine – the Old Town is experiencing similar issues and problems which the protest rally is aiming to highlight and address.
This morning Karen gave a press conference outside the Town Hall, stating the objectives of the rally to the Spanish Media before going inside for a meeting with the Mayor himself - Toni Perez and Lorenzo Martinez, which she said was “fruitful”. Jose Antonio Corachan accompanied her – he is 100% supportive of the action being taken having unsuccessfully tried to instigate a similar campaign last year. Karen laid out the fundamental points that they want to achieve, with Transparency and Communication top of the list.
We all love Benidorm and want to protect its image. We need people to return and feel safe, not be too scared to come back - so come and show your support on Monday. The peaceful rally takes place at the Town Hall Square, just round the corner from the Plaza Triangular, from 10am until 12 Noon. Karen and a number of speakers will address the crowds – and most importantly, the Mayor himself has promised that he will take to the stage. Karen will then hand over copies of the signed petition and talks will continue over the coming days, weeks and months to help make our streets safer and protect tourism.