Loulé court hears Turner case

Widow, Helen Turner talks exclusively to The Resident about her ongoing ordeal

THE TRIAL of the alleged attackers of retired British businessman John Turner, who died following a burglary at his home in the Algarve last year, began at Loulé court last week.

Strangely enough, the hearing got underway just days after his widow Helen Turner spoke of her disappointment at the long wait for justice, telling The Resident she was yet to be informed of a date for the case. Helen Turner testified last Thursday morning, May 4, the day after three Romanian men first appeared in court, charged with robbery and causing her husband’s death at their home in Loulé last April. Events have moved quickly – but not without some confusion – following The Resident’s interview with Mrs Turner in last week’s edition (entitled One year on and still no justice, on page 5). It now transpires that the court had already sent Mrs Turner a letter informing her of the date of the trial – but due to an administrative error, it was sent to the wrong address. She found out about the hearing date by chance, when a friend, who is to be called as a witness, told her that she had received a letter from the court. Helen was then forced to cut short a planned trip to the UK.

Judge, José Espirito Santo, opened the trial on Wednesday May 3, with the three men in question: Vasile Cucicea, aged 39, Ioan Rusus, 21 and Dumitru Pekura, 28 charged with qualified robbery (carrying a possible prison term of between eight and 15 years) and homicide (eight to 16 years). The suspects, who have been held on remand in Faro and Olhão prisons, waived their right to silence and testified. They blamed the attack on two other Romanian gang members who are still on the run: Gheorghe Beuca – who is now the subject of an international arrest warrant – and a man named only as “Dorel”, who has never been formally identified by the authorities. The three defendants on trial, denied all responsibility for the death of the 59-year-old retired businessman.

The prosecution’s case

The prosecution allege that John Turner and his wife, Helen, were in bed naked and asleep at their home in Sobradinho de Alfeição (an isolated part of Loulé) when five men, using a crowbar, broke into their property, shortly after midnight on April 27 last year. The gang allegedly assaulted the couple, inflicting such injuries on John Turner that he died shortly afterwards.

Helen Turner stated that the men burst into their bedroom, jumped on top of the bed and began attacking them. Helen also testified that one of the men sexually assaulted her. However, due to the fatal nature of the attack on her husband, Helen was not examined within the designated time limit to gather evidence for charges to be brought against those who assaulted her.

Jewellery, electrical goods and other valuables were taken from the couple’s home. The prosecution alleges that gang members fled to Spain in two cars they stole from the Turners, a BMW X5, which was later recovered, and a Mercedes Coupé, which has never been found, but is believed to be somewhere in Spain. Helen Turner described how she found her husband dead soon after the group fled their home. She then ran naked to a nearby café from where the police were summoned.

Gang blamed other Romanians

The three defendants maintained that they were forced to participate in the raid under threats from Gheorghe Beuca and Dorel. They alleged that, when they arrived at the house, they had no plans to rob the couple. Vasile Cucicea maintained that he did not break into the house and only stood guard outside. He also denied any knowledge of violence against the couple. Ioan Rusus and Dumitru Pekura also testified that they were acting under orders from the other two gang members, and also denied attacking Mr Turner.

The cause of John Turner’s death was a controversial but crucial aspect of the case. Three post-mortems were performed on his body, involving a three-month wait following his death, before Helen Turner could bury her husband. The first, carried out by a Portuguese pathologist, concluded that Mr Turner died of a heart attack, but Helen, who described her husband as “a very fit and healthy man”, disputed the findings. Her husband’s body was then flown to Britain where a London pathologist conducted a second post mortem, delivering a verdict of “unlawful death”. Finally, a Portuguese coroner from Coimbra flew to London and confirmed the British ruling, this overruling the first findings. It established, beyond doubt, that Mr Turner’s death resulted from injuries sustained in the attack.

Helen Turner “tired of malicious rumours”

Helen Turner, speaking exclusively to The Resident, said that she was “tired of the  publicity resulting from the robbery  and the malicious rumours from some sections of the British community in the Algarve”. At the time of John’s death, they had been living together for six years – and as a married couple for one year – and they had been planning a long and happy retirement together. John had plans to set up a business here to be fronted by a young Portuguese man. But despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Helen told us that some people had accused her of inventing the story in order to profit. “Once I was having a meal in a Vilamoura restaurant with a close friend, Maureen Quickfall, who has been an absolute rock throughout my ordeal. In fact, it was her that helped me get dressed and comforted me immediately following the robbery,” she said. “In the restaurant we heard some people at a neighbouring table talking about my case, total strangers I had never seen before. They clearly had no idea I was in the restaurant – (no photographs of Mrs Turner were published in the press). I listened to them saying that they heard I was behind the whole thing. I went over to them and confronted them at their table and, of course, they were thunderstruck!”  “I think it is time the British community here in the Algarve stopped to think before they gossip and spread untruths about others, I have been through enough already without this.”

Helen Turner explained to The Resident, that under Portuguese law, she was questioned by police following her husband John’s death. After this investigation, Helen was ruled out of the police investigations into the circumstances surrounding John Turner’s death. A statement to this effect appeared in the Portuguese newspapers at the time.

Helen Turner’s health has suffered following the ordeal at her home last year.  She suffered a seizure due to post-traumatic stress, had her gall bladder removed, still has trouble sleeping and continues to see a counsellor. But, despite her terrible experience, she is keen not to cast a negative light on Portugal and the Algarve. “I don’t want to ruin the reputation of the Algarve. What happened to us could have happened anywhere. Faro Police did a fantastic job and apprehended three of the suspects within three months.”

The house in Sobradinho de Alfeição is now up for sale and Helen has returned to the first property she and John shared in the Algarve. Helen says she has considered setting up a victim support group, since she received “very little support” in the aftermath of the attack, an idea that has been well received by Faro Police. Helen told The Resident that currently her “only joy in an immensely difficult period” is her new granddaughter, who was born in the UK last week, “she is keeping me going at the moment”, she said.

The trial was adjourned on Thursday May 4, due to the backlog of cases to be heard at the court, and will resume on June 1 at 9.30am, when six policemen and one civilian witness are due to give evidence. Then, on June 8, the coroner will be called to give evidence.

Reporting by Gabriel Hershman and Caroline Cunha