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Police and courts need more power to tackle crime

In My View

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

A 14-year-old girl is stabbed 17 times in Mem Martins by a friend who was denied €10, an aggressive attack on a 13-year-old in Lisbon by teenage girls is posted on Facebook and shocks the nation, and a 50-year-old British tourist dies in an Algarve hospital after being beaten by a violent gang.

They are all seemingly random and unconnected attacks, but violent crime committed by gangs of youths or individuals, some barely in their teens, is either on the increase in Portugal or is receiving greater media coverage.

Portugal, once considered a safe place to visit, live and work, now seems to be an increasingly violent place these days if we are to read the papers.

The British media was naturally shocked by the violent assault on tourist Ian Haggath, who died in Faro Hospital over the weekend as a result of multiple injuries.

He was attacked in Albufeira two weeks ago in what is just the latest in a string of violent assaults on foreigners in the Algarve.

The death has led the British authorities to issue an alert to all tourists travelling to Portugal.

“We are extremely concerned at the possibility of further violent attacks against British citizens” a statement reads, which on the eve of the summer season is hardly a good advert for Portugal, which has already suffered bad press over the disappearance of toddler Madeleine McCann in 2007 from Praia da Luz.

The British statistics office estimates that of the 1,685 million tourists who visited Portugal in 2010, 338 required consular help between April 1 last year and March 21 this year.

While these figures are distressing, they are not unduly high in comparison to the number of visitors – and I wonder how many Portuguese visitors – get beaten up in London?

We need to get these incidents in perspective and see the bigger picture.

There is certainly just as much violence and organised crime on the Spanish ‘Costas’ and Portugal is still a relatively safe place to live compared to Brazil, where despite a booming economy, gangland crime is rife.

Of course, organised mafias from Eastern Europe have had an influence on house robberies in the Algarve, but many of these recent attacks will have been committed by young, jobless youths, from disadvantaged backgrounds in a region that has a 20% unemployment level.

Elidérico Viegas, President of the Algarve Hoteliers & Tourism Development Association (AHETA), said on Monday that it was a “seriously worrying situation when talking about something that could put the Algarve’s main economic activity – tourism – at risk”.

He’s right. But until the police and law courts are given the necessary powers and backup to deal with the problem, undoubtedly of social origin, stories like the ones appearing in the British press will likely continue.