Glasgow cop who snared serial killer Peter Tobin leads team helping crime victims abroad

FROM wishing for a life in the sun to a celebration holiday, there are times when we long for carefree days.

For many, retiring abroad may seem like a dream come true with long days spent enjoying all the finer things of life in the Mediterranean.

And as travel restrictions ease, the lure of two weeks in the sun is likely to be on the cards for thousands of Scots next year.

However, setting off into the sunset doesn’t always end well and whether it’s an ill-fated holiday home purchase or being the victim of a serious crime, it can all be so much worse for individuals when they are away from home and have a language barrier to contend with as well.

It is one of the reasons why former senior detective David Swindle, the man who snared serial killer Peter Tobin and set up Operation Anagram to investigate other crimes the evil killer might have been involved with, started helping victims of crime abroad.

 
During his career with Strathclyde Police, Mr Swindle led the team which put Tobin behind bars for the murder and rape of Angelika Kluk at Glasgow’s St Patrick’s Church in Anderston in 2006. It was the setting up of Operation Anagram which established a link between Tobin and missing Scots schoolgirl Vicky Hamilton and another missing teenager, Dinah McNicol. Tobin is serving whole life terms after being found guilty of the three murders.

 

David Swindle has been looking into high profile cases

David Swindle has been looking into high profile cases

 

GIVEN his background and expertise, Mr Swindle is now helping families in a dire time of need when loved ones have been killed abroad. He is heavily involved in trying to get justice for the families of Kirsty Maxwell and Craig Mallon who were both killed overseas.

“When I left my high-profile role as a detective superintendent and senior investigating officer in the former Strathclyde Police, I wanted to continue to use my CID skills to help victims and families and became involved in providing independent case reviews regarding unresolved or suspicious deaths, mainly abroad, including Scottish victims Craig Mallon who was murdered in 2012 and Kirsty Maxwell who died in unresolved suspicious circumstances in 2017.

“The team supporting me has developed over the years with a now established range of linguists who are experts in their own fields and strong knowledge of culture, business and processes, mainly in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries.”

In July, Mr Swindle and his team went one step further and set up Victims Abroad.
He added: “I decided to showcase the skills of the team of experts and set up Victims Abroad who are there to help those in their time of need in other countries with a range of difficulties faced when people are in another country.”

AMONG the high-profile cases is that of Kirsty Maxwell from Livingston in West Lothian. She was in Benidorm for a hen weekend when she died on April 29, 2017.

After their first night in the town, in the early hours of the morning, she and her friends returned to the apartment block where they were staying and went to bed. 

At about 7.50am, Ms Maxwell left the apartment and went to the floor above, where some of her friends were in another flat.The 27-year-old knocked on the wrong door and went into an apartment which was being used by a group of men from Nottingham.

Within minutes she had fallen to her death from their tenth-floor balcony.

With Mr Swindle’s help, her family are still looking for answers and her parents Denise and Brian have since set up a charity in her name – the Kirsty Maxwell Charity.

In similar heartbreaking circumstances, Craig Mallon’s family are still looking for answers and next year it will be the tenth anniversary since he died.

Mr Mallon, from Coatbridge, was killed in a single punch attack while on holiday in Lloret de Mar on Spain’s Costa Brava on May 19, 2012. The 26-year-old quantity surveyor was killed in front of several witnesses.

Despite there being many eyewitness accounts and authorities discovering the group of key witnesses had left their hotel early, local officers were unable to solve the case.

His mother Antionette went to her grave without seeing justice for her son, while his father Ian continues to fight for answers.

And one of the people Mr Swindle brought on board to the Victims Abroad project was former property expert Lesley McEwan. The Scot had been living in Spain for nearly 20 years and it wasn’t always the happy side of life in the sun that she saw.

NOW back in Scotland, Mrs McEwan had worked on property market scams and Spanish local authority administration issues.

“During my time in Spain, I had heard about illegal property issues which is where someone buys a house which is not registered and has no legal paperwork – in effect, they don’t have planning permission. It is not illegal to sell them but it is illegal not inform the buyer of the status.

“In the end I must have handled hundreds of these cases. On many occasions people had put their life savings into buying a retirement home abroad only to find the properties don’t technically exist on paper.

“The worst-case scenario is that they can end up with their property being demolished and having to pay for extra fees in connection with the demolition and land.”

However, there have been many cases where Mrs McEwan had been able to save the day and even prevented an eleventh-hour demolition threat.

She explained: “I was contacted by someone who was living in a Spanish town who said his neighbour had handed him a piece of paper, but he didn’t understand it.

“I got him to send me a picture of it straight away and it turned out to be a notice that the house would demolished in three days’ time.

“I managed to negotiate with the local authority and due to a timing issue we got it stopped so the homeowner was safe for another few years – until such time as authorities tried again.”

While Victims Abroad only formed this summer and traveller numbers are still nothing compared to pre-Covid levels, it is in the months ahead that it could be called upon to assist and offer expertise.

Mr Swindle added: “The numbers of people going on holiday have been low due to the pandemic. However, sadly that will change and sadly we will have to help poor families and victims struggling to find their way through justice or process systems abroad.” 

Kirsty Maxwell with her husband Adam on their wedding day

Kirsty Maxwell with her husband Adam on their wedding day

 

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Craig Mallon had been on holiday in Spain in 2012 when tragedy struck

Craig Mallon had been on holiday in Spain in 2012 when tragedy struck

 

Despite there being many eyewitness accounts and authorities discovering the group of key witnesses had left their hotel early, local officers were unable to solve the case.

His mother Antionette went to her grave without seeing justice for her son, while his father Ian continues to fight for answers.

And one of the people Mr Swindle brought on board with the Victims Abroad project was former property expert Lesley McEwan. The Scot had been living in Spain for nearly 20 years and it wasn’t always the happy side of life in the sun she saw.

Now back in Scotland Mrs McEwan had worked on property market scams, Spanish local authority administration issues.

“During my time in Spain I had heard about illegal property issues which is where someone buys a house which is not registered and has no legal paperwork in effect they don’t have planning permission. It is not illegal to sell them, but it is illegal not tell inform the buyer of the status.

“And in the end I must have handled hundreds of these cases. On many occasions people had put their life savings into a buying a retirement home abroad only to find the properties don’t technically exist on paper.

“The worst case scenario is that they can end up with their property being demolished and having to pay for extra fees in connection with the demolition and land.”

However, there have been many cases where Mrs McEwan had been able to save the day and even prevented an 11th hour demolition threat.

She added: “I was contacted by someone who was living in a Spanish town who said his neighbour had handed him a piece of paper, but he didn’t understand it.

“I got him to send me a picture of it straight away and it turned out to be a notice that the house would demolished in three day’s time.

“I managed to negotiate with the local authority and due to a timing issue we got it stopped so the homeowner was safe for another few years – until such times as authorities tried again.”

 

The Victims Abroad team include David Swindle, Lesley McEwan, Debbie Smirthwaite, Susan Terris and Eva Maria Navarro Puchaes

The Victims Abroad team include David Swindle, Lesley McEwan, Debbie Smirthwaite, Susan Terris and Eva Maria Navarro Puchaes

 

Mrs McEwan was also called on to handle a case while a holidaymaker was still abroad.

“I helped the victim of a road scam. The individual had only just arrived and had picked up a hire car. When she was pulling out of a junction a vehicle stopped in front of her forcing her to stop and at the time she thought she heard a noise at the back,” said Mrs McEwan.

“It was all a ploy to make her stop and distract while someone opened the back door of the car and stole her bag with her cash and cards. Where I came in was helping to prevent further loss with what action they could take immediately such as stopping cards and helping with the language barrier.”

While Victims Abroad only formed this summer, while traveller numbers were nothing compared to pre-covid levels, it’s the months ahead where they could be called upon to assist and offer expertise.

Mr Swindle added: “The numbers of people going on holiday have been low due to the pandemic however sadly that will change and sadly we will have to help poor families and victims struggling to find their way through justice or process systems abroad.”

The mother of Dean Wright, from Newcastle who was killed in Cancun, offered her support.

Maria Wray, who has been helped by team, said “Hopefully nobody will need this, however if you’re ever in in this awful nightmare this is the team you will need for help and support.”

Information on Victims Abroad can be found at https://victimsabroad.com/

You can find out more about the Kirsty Maxwell Charity at https://kirstymaxwellcharity.co.uk/

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992