Reaction to Jennifer Mills-Westley trial, as told by ex-pats and journalists
14:59 25 February 2013
The murder of former Norwich woman Jennifer Mills-Westley sent shockwaves across the world, particularly in the UK, but what did ex-pats and journalists working in Tenerife make of the horrific crime? PETER WALSH reports.
Susan and Chris Nightingale, from Lancashire, who had stopped for a rest close to the apartments at Port Royale said they were “shocked” to hear what happened but have come back to Tenerife for a sixth time despite the tragedy.
Mrs Nightingale, 64, said: “I was absolutely horrified at what happened and said at the time it had to be mental health and then it came out it was.”
Mr Nightingale, 60, said he was stunned something “so horrific” happened but added it was “not fair” to judge Tenerife on that one incident.
He said: “Something like that could happen on your own doorstep anywhere in the world.”
He added: “It shouldn’t paint Tenerife in a bad light.
“It’s our sixth time to Tenerife before and after and we will be coming again.
“It’s not put us off – our eldest son is coming in May for the first time.”
Paul McFadden, 54, from Dublin, but who has lived in Los Cristianos for 19 years, said: “Unbelievable. I’ve heard of only one other thing similar like that in 19 years living here.”
Janet Anscombe, a former lecturer in classics and ancient history moved to Tenerife in 2004 and lives with her husband in a 200-year-old cottage overlooking the west coast of the island,
Although she did not know Mrs Mills-Westley personally, she has used her website, Janet Anscombe in Tenerife, to try to keep people back home updated with what has been happening in the shocking case through a series of blogs.
Mrs Anscombe, who described Tenerife as having been left “reeling” from the tragedy, said: “The trial could have been avoided entirely if Deyanov had admitted the crime, in which case there could have been a brief sentencing hearing.”
She added that she had hoped he would be “locked up securely never to threaten anyone ever again, and that such a sentence will bring some sense of closure to the family of his poor victim”.
Karl McLaughlin is a reporter for Island Connections, the biggest English-language paper in the Canary islands, and also works for a Spanish daily published in Tenerife and as a freelance for a number of UK and Irish media.
He said: “This is probably the biggest I have covered in my time in Tenerife, except perhaps for the mysterious death of media tycoon Robert Maxwell in 1991.
“I have vivid recollections of the day in question. News of the horrific incident reached me around 11.15 through a colleague who had seen the commotion in the area but early reports indicated that the victim was a Chinese national. I had my doubts and put in a few calls to police and other sources here during the next half hour to double-check and was stunned to discover the true identity of the deceased.
“As is usual when a major story like this breaks, I contacted the foreign desks of UK media to flag up that something very big was on its way and that
it might be wise to set aside slots on prime-time news programmes.
“Needless to say, there was massive interest when further horrific details emerged. I distinctly recall that with the BBC, who commissioned me to do live interviews from Tenerife during the entire afternoon of 13 May 2011, We had to take advice on how to report the story.
“The Foreign Office was involved and I was asked, for the first few hours, not to mention how exactly Mrs Mills-Westley met her death and to avoid using certain words in the coverage, given that it was proving difficult to contact her family. This was around 3pm.
“A delicate balance had to be struck between putting the information out and ensuring that next of kin did not hear the terrible details via the media.
“A time [5pm] was agreed as of which the terms “beheaded” and “decapitated” could be used by me in reporting on air, for, eg, Radio 5 Live, but even then some presenters apologised to listeners for the distress caused.”
Mr McLaughlin said the impact of the crime on Tenerife was “massive”, shocking everyone and continuing to do so until today.
He added: “During those very early hours, I don’t think anyone here in Tenerife fully realised the sheer scale of the events that were unfolding.
“The impact on the island, where tourism is the mainstay of the economy [Los Cristianos and Playa de Las Américas receive millions of holidaymakers every year], was massive, but the initial stunned reaction on everyone’s part, including the authorities, changed dramatically when the sordid details of the background of Deyanov emerged.”
Ruth Summers, 43, is editor of the Canarian Weekly, an English newspaper in the south of Tenerife with all up-to-date news and events on the island over seven days. Originally from Bristol, she moved to the island about seven years ago.
She said: “It was one of those times when everyone knows where they were and what they were doing. Everyone knows the date because it’s Friday 13. It was the first in history crime of this nature. It was just ‘wow’. You couldn’t actually believe it.”
But despite the brutality of the crime it did not maintain its position in the column inches for as long as you might expect.
She said: “For a week, if you like, it was news. We’ve tried to keep it low key because we’re a tourist destination and you don’t want someone to think they’re going to go to Tenerife and think they’re going to get their head cut off.
“You’ve got to think we’ve got mass unemployment, our tourist numbers are down 4pc or whatever – we want people to come here because that’s our livelihood. We rely on tourism,”
And so while the crime might not be being talked about every day it certainly has not been forgotten – nor least among the tourists who come from the UK.
She said: “We do get the tourists who come over and say they saw it on the news and I’ve been to that shop.
“At the time a lot of people that were here received phone calls from family back home asking if they were okay.”
Tourists might like to talk about the case but the owners of the Chinese discount store at the Valdes centre, where this truly terrifying fatal attack happened, have never spoken about it.
She added: “They won’t talk in any language I’ve tried – Chinese, English and Spanish.”
Ross Browning, 38, station manager of Oasis FM, in Tenerife, said the crime was so very shocking because it was so rare for Tenerife, although he does not think it has put tourists off coming. He said: “Tenerife is a very safe place to live and holiday and so because of that despite what’s happened Tenerife doesn’t retain the stigma of that awful attack, even though it’s something we will never forget.
“The trial starting again has made everyone remember the horror of the occasion.
“In the two years since Tenerife has remained a safe place, a wonderful place to live and holiday but what it has done is brought back the chilling horror of that fateful morning.”
Mr Browning, who is originally from Dorset and first came out in 1992 before returning to the UK to work for ITN and then coming back to Tenerife in 2005, said it was the indiscriminate nature of the brutal attack that caused a great deal of the shock for so many people.
He said: “It was so out of the blue and so left-field.”
He added: “It’s the randomness of it that I think shocked everyone at the time and what really shocked everyone about it was that she was this wonderful person with this quiet nature who wanted to come and have a quiet life in her later days.”