Authorities concerned about ‘drinking district’

Albufeira is in mourning this week – not simply for the proud father-of-one who lost his brave battle for life after a brutal alcohol-fuelled beating, but for a way of life and ‘community atmosphere’ that has all but disappeared. As the popular holiday destination becomes indelibly marked by late-night violence in the so-called ‘drinking district’, locals admit they are frightened to go out at night.

“It’s getting out of hand,” said one. “We always feel endangered.”

The irony is that only this summer authorities convened in the aftermath of “Portugal Invasion” (see box) to see what could be done to stem the rising tide of loutish violence.

Algarve tourism boss, and former mayor of Albufeira, Desidério Silva, talked about how focus should be on attracting ‘the right kind of tourist’, and how GNR police should be watching for ‘low-cost excursions’ that could lead to trouble.

But the reality is that nothing has changed.

Two weeks ago, for reasons still to become clear, a group of drunken young men, purportedly from Quarteira, attacked 35-year-old barman Paulo dos Santos as he left work at the Hangover Bar near the notorious ‘Oura strip’.

Beside a tiny caravan selling hotdogs, they beat him so badly that he ended up with two broken vertebrae and irreparable head injuries.

When he died five days later in hospital, tabloid Correio da Manhã said it was the result family and friends were expecting, given that doctors had only given a 1% chance of survival, and even then, nothing would have ever been the same.

To this day, police have only said they have ‘identified’ Paulo’s attackers. As we write, there is still no news of arrests.

His funeral was due to go ahead on Wednesday, and the flood of messages and heartbreak over social media shows friends are already talking about “getting justice”.

But if Paulo’s terrible death wasn’t enough to make people take stock, the next weekend saw further bloodshed as rival gangs of ‘holidaymakers’ laid into each other, causing serious injuries.

One man was reported to have lost two fingers (this was later reduced to one, and then only “the tip of a finger” which has since successfully been grafted back) while a woman too received cuts to her face.

Again, reports of arrests have yet to surface.

The inference is much more “thank God for September” as the imported flood of lager louts will now dissipate, and then we will be left with only ‘homegrown’ problems.

But as a barman who asked to remain anonymous told us: “Everything has changed. We no longer feel safe. I no longer go out after work. It’s straight home, always feeling something might happen.”

Long-term holidaymaker Carol Cregan wrote in to us, following our online reports, saying: “You’re right about the troubles in Albufeira. We were here in June (for the Portugal Invasion) and it was very bad. There was a terrible tension in the air. My husband and I have been coming for 14 years, and this is the worst we’ve seen. Not what you expect on your holiday.”

Tabloid Correio da Manhã has picked up on the issue, saying emergency response teams simply cannot cope.

Albufeira bombeiros – among the first to be called when people are injured – stress “accidents and aggressions” this year are off the scale, with the force in need of more manpower even if it is to provide the correct level of response to the resident population.

But a reliable local source suggests Albufeira’s problems have little to do with reinforcing manpower.

Two simple changes to the town’s status quo could almost instantly bring it back from the brink.

The first would be to restore bar closing times to 4am – as opposed to the current habitual 7am – and the second to prohibit the practice by bars of giving every customer that walks in, no matter what their condition, one free drink.

“Just think about it,” said our source. “There are around 20 bars on the Strip, all of them offering people who walk in a free drink, invariably a shot.

“Anyone can go from bar to bar, getting free shots, and probably drinking a beer after each free one so they don’t look like freeloaders.

“If they hit the bars at 11pm, by 2-3am they will be off their heads.

“And this is the reality of Albufeira. By 3am, people are walking the streets like zombies. It has been like this for the last five years …

“The fault is not with police response – which this year has been even greater than before, with foreign forces coming in to help with language difficulties.

“The fault is with the people who issue the drinking licences, and with the bar businesses that offer free drinks without thinking of the consequences.”

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]

Photo: Open Media Group