500 attack Carcavelos beach

POLICE WERE trying to restore public confidence following last Friday’s incident at Carcavelos in which around 500 youths ‘steamed’ the beach, robbing everyone in their path. The incident was widely reported both in Portuguese and international media.

Carcavelos, 15 kilometres west of Lisbon, was unusually crowded last Friday because of the public holiday when youngsters, mostly aged between 12 and 20, descended on the beach. The incident began at 1pm when several assaults were recorded near Carcavelos station. Shopkeepers and café owners could not recall ever seeing such a large group of youths assembling on the beach.

Police heavily outnumbered

Sunbathers became worried and began to alert police on their mobiles. A small number of police officers from Cascais arrived and tried to disperse the mob, but were forced to call reinforcements because they were heavily outnumbered. “There were hundreds of assailants, running along the beach. People told us they had been robbed of everything including mobiles, watches and clothing,” revealed one officer.

Gonçalves Pereira, from Cascais Polícia de Segurança Pública (PSP), said police were forced to wade in with truncheons and fired shots into the air to restore order. “We had to establish control of the beach and gain a perimeter of security,” he said. By 3.30pm, order on the beach had been restored, but five people, including two police officers, suffered minor injuries.

Many youths escaped by mixing with other passengers in crowded trains leaving from Carcavelos. But police believe that photographs of the assailants, some of whom were captured carrying goods around the beach, can be used to aid future prosecutions.

Crime unprecedented in Portugal

“We are dealing with a very unexpected and unusual situation, in terms of the numbers involved and the nature of the incident,” said a police source. “I think it’s very difficult to say that all these gangs assembling on the beach and acting like this is coincidental,” said one officer. Police are well aware of links between criminal gangs, who live in different areas, meeting up at night to stage robberies before separating the following morning.

The President of Cascais Câmara, António Capucho, said he was convinced that the assailants came from other areas. But he called for more conspicuous policing and planned to meet the Minister for Internal Administration, António Costa, to discuss the incident.

Type of crime common in Brazil

The summer season obviously offers opportunities to thieves who are denied them in the winter. Youths target car parks in shopping centres, laying in wait for people to open doors before stealing everything inside the vehicle.

Beach crime is also common in the summer, but incidents are usually unorganised and confined to petty thefts. Thieves monitor movements on the beach very closely, stealing wallets from someone who briefly plunges into the sea. Or they watch people leaving beachside houses and then burgle through a window.

Last Friday’s crime, in terms of its scale and audacity, is unprecedented in Portugal. But it is far from uncommon on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil or at big events such as the carnival.

‘Sometimes there is a link between crime and ethnicity’

Rui Pereira, president of the Observatory of Criminality, says that it would be a mistake to link the crime with ethnicity or to diminish the effect of the event on the public’s consciousness. “It is important not to give a racial connotation to what happened. But, of course, sometimes there can be a certain link between crime and ethnicity.” He says the police must restore confidence quickly.

“The first expression of the right to liberty is the right for police to move around freely. And the state has to guarantee that they can do it safely. This situation is very serious because it threatens that fundamental right to liberty. Sometimes we think that certain crimes are not very serious because the value of the goods stolen is paltry. But crime has to be judged in terms of the effect on the public. In this case, many people are going to think twice before returning to the beach,” he said.

Police prevent Quarteira ‘invasion’

Around 50 youths caused panic when they tried to ‘steam’ Quarteira beach (Algarve) just one day after the incident at Carcavelos. The gang, believed to come from deprived areas of Amadora, had attended a rave party in Vilamoura the previous night.

The gang robbed a shop at the entrance to the beach and were only prevented from invading the sands by a squadron of Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) cyclists.

Fortunately, police had reinforced their numbers following the incident at Carcavelos, boosting their contingent by almost 400 GNR officers, including 210 trainee officers.

The prompt intervention of the GNR cyclists, supported by the territorial division and the Maritime Police, prevented the gang from invading the beach after robbing a shop. The shop owner did not wish to be identified or make a complaint for fear of reprisals. “I was surrounded by the gang. While some of them asked me about prices, others slipped shorts into their clothing,” he revealed to the press.

Officers detained one member of the gang who was due to appear in court earlier this week. Another two boys, from Cova da Moura and Damaia, have also been identified. A GNR officer was treated for hand injures following the incident. G.H.

The Resident’s Bob Hughes spoke to Carla Gabriel, owner of Windsurfer Bar on the Carcavelos Beach, who witnessed the whole incident. Cafés and restaurants in the area closed for a day in protest of the lack of security.

Resident: How did the incident start?

Carla Gabriel: There were groups of people standing around and one of them circled an Eastern European family, going on to rob and beat them. The group was then joined by others until there were about 500 boy and girl robbers. I called for the police, who arrived after about 10 minutes. The agents fired bullets in the air to disperse them.

R: What was the scene like?

C.G.: People were very frightened; fathers and mothers were covering their children. Police had already closed the Marginal Road, but a lot of people were panicking.

R: Of what origin were the assailants?

C.G.: I would rather not say. You only need to look at the TV images.

R: How many beach-goers do you reckon were there at the time?

C.G.: Many, many thousands.

R: Why do you think there were no police on the beach?

C.G.: We were told that they are needed in areas like Damaia and Amadora, where policemen have been killed, but, from now on, it may be different.

R: On a normal day, is there much crime on this beach?

C.G.: Not on weekdays, but during the weekend and on bank holidays, there is a lot of crime. Last year, a man was stabbed here and, last week, thugs frightened off our only lifeguard. Now, the beach does not have one.

R: How has this incident affected your trade?

C.G.: For example, today (Saturday), we would be rushed off our feet. As you can see, we only have seven people here.