Wednesday, 12 October 2011

2 UK Aid workers detained illegally by Croatian authorities, food for the strays stolen, violation of human rights

To the groups who were due to be delivered aid and and to those whose animals were to be transported last week.

by Actionfor Romaniananimals on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 1:30pm
First of all I want to make this very plain and clear. No one, is more sorry than I am for what has happened. Though none of this was personally my fault, it breaks my heart to know that the Croatian authorities literally can commit highway robbery and deny animals desperately needed food and aid. If I did not care for the animals then the question has to be raised why on earth would have I personally organised such a mission, drove thousands of miles in the worst weather conditions, slept on the floor of a van in freezing temperatures solely focused on getting that aid to where it was needed? Why would I have done all this and not care for what has happened.

The donations and aid have been restricted from being moved or distributed as the day after I was released I hired a lawyer and he started the legal process rolling including a restriction order. I will have to fly over to Croatia to attend a court case, but my lawyer does not seem to think that it will come to this as we have video evidence and documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt our case. That the donations were illegally and wrongfully detained, as were myself and my team mate.

So though all of what happened was personally beyond my control and I did everything that was expected of me and more, I am sorry for the groups  that will have to wait for the donations and to the people whose dogs I was unable to get to, to transport to Germany and Holland. I as much as anyone wanted and know the need in Romania, hence why I organised this in the first instance,

Over the next few weeks, when our team have time to regroup and dissect the situation. We will be paying the Robert Smith foundation to deliver food to one shelter. This food then will be distributed to the groups that should have received the aid. I have no idea how much we will be sending, or the exact date when we can do this. I am only human and can only do so much, especially under such circumstances, but this is my plan over the next few weeks. If the aid is released that is being held, then of course this will be delivered to where it was first intended. As I myself have no idea of a court date, it is useless my even guessing when this will be.

I believe that the groups who would have received the aid and the people who we would have collected animals from deserve an open and honest explanation to what led to this disastrous event and subsequently the aid being illegally seized and now held in Croatia pending legal action from myself.

Again I am sorry for the groups that would have received the aid and the people that dogs would have been transported, I am trying my very best to fight the Croatian border police on this and to deal with what personally happened to myself whilst wrongfully being held by them and the treatment at there hands. I will of course keep you all updated on the progress as and when it comes to my attention.

I hope that I can rely on your support to help me fight the Croatian authorities and get that aid to where it was intended, to the strays of Romania.

Kind regards

After delaying a week for one group to finally get there documentation and information to us (which they still failed to do) and because of hearing of threats to disrupt the aid mission by a president of a Romanian charity, Two team members from Romania Animal Aid set off on 31st October 2011 from England on route to Romania to deliver donated animal food and medical treatments for the strays of Romania and to NGO's who had rescued and were caring for animals they had rescued there.

The first stop was to Birmingham then Potters Bar, after this we boarded the ferry at Dover and docked at Calais.

Stopped by UK customs – Please note that we were questioned on the vans goods and papers checked and given the all clear to continue.

In France we received a phone call from Chrissy telling us that we could not bring the preplanned dogs to the adoption centre in Holland as there had been a parvo outbreak there, and so though the dogs that were due to be transported to Holland were fully vaccinated, the adoption centre itself could not receive any more animals. After this gut wrenching news the team started to call and text people in hopes of finding foster/adopters for the dogs originally due in Holland.

A few hours after this, the team received another blow, from 20 dogs we were due to collect in Romania, 12 of these as had been agreed with a Romanian group were to be fostered at there shelter giving RAA time to find new homes/foster outside of Romania. They had that day told another team member back in the UK that they could not do this as. At this stage we had been let down badly, or rather the animals had been let down badly by 2 groups in Romania. The group who originally sent pups to Holland un-vaccinated and caused the parvo outbreak at the centre and this other group who now on the very day we were travelling, unable to access the internet, suddenly changed their minds!

I then drove drove onto Belgium from here to drive to Holland to collect more donations, unfortunately due to the already weighted vehicle laden with donations the clutch failed on the vehicle.

For many hours we were by the roadside awaiting assistance. This finally came and they had no choice but to stay in accommodation until the vehicle was fixed. This was done then they continued to Holland, then onto Frankfurt.

Stopped by German Police - This is where we were stopped by German Police and the van searched, papers checked and given the all clear.

Frankfurt would be our final pick up for donations as physically no more donations would fit into the van. Because of delaying the trip for a week in hopes of one group finally getting all the information and documents to us we were totally behind schedule. Also prior to the trip itself it was agreed that we would drive straight through taking turns to drive, that way ensuring there was no breaks in the journey. This did not happen for various reasons, and I personally drove continually throughout the trip and so obviously only being human, and after literally falling asleep at the wheel a few times, suffering with cramp in my legs and arms I had to rest. This consisted of my wrapping myself up in a blanket and laying on the van floor. This of course caused even more delays.

Anyway, because of these delays it was decided that we would drop all the donations at one shelter in Romania and for the people with animals to transport to bring them to us. That would literally save on the days we had lost. The first group we had intended to drop donations off to, would be the point of where all this would happen, this was in Croavia.

My colleague who had taken on the role of transport manager had the maps that showed the direct route to Romania and also the gps to rely upon. It was not until we were driving through the Austrian Alps that it became obvious we were not heading in the straight direction as we should have been, but as had by this time travelled hundreds of miles out of our way we continued. I had never travelled to Romania this way before and I was literally like a zombie just in drive mode, just focusing on driving and getting to Romania to deliver the precious cargo in the back.

Regardless of who or how we had got this position was irrelevant by this point. We were the other side of Austria and simply did not have the time to double back on ourselves so we continued on, still with the plan to go through Hungary and onto Romania.

The day fell into night, I just kept driving on and on, guided by the gps (that started having hissy fits) and the 3 maps that Anne had on her. At a single point a sign read Serbia. Again alarm bells rang with me and I pulled into a petrol station and thankfully (or not) the attendant spoke English. I got him to draw on the map book where we were to go to get to Hungary. He said that we shouldn’t go to Serbia as we needed a visa (I later found out that was nonsense as we are from the UK and that at this point Serbia was closer to Romania than Hungary!) Just to make double sure, I also asked the guy to write down in list form the towns we would be hitting on the way to Hungary so that our transport manager could clearly see via the sign posts we were on the right route.

Again we continued on, and eventually I had to pull into another petrol station just to get some sleep, I was mentally and physically affected by exhaustion and needed to sleep. We parked up and in the morning got back in the driving seat.

We passed through a number of check points but to be honest I cannot remember where these were exactly or what police force/customs they were. All I know is the same procedure followed, questions, answers, documents then given the all clear.

Stopped at the Bregana Border - After driving a full day and into the night at approx 7-8pm we were stopped at what I now know was the Bregana border. Unbeknown to me, we had now entered Croatia. Again, I was just focused on driving and getting to Romania. Here as we done had we had at each check point previously, we asked where they wanted us to go, in what lane etc to be checked. A police officer directed us as they had previously into the customs lane, and we waited.

A customs officer got on board Bertha and as all the previous customs officers and police officers had done before, asked us what we had on board, where we were heading, what our intention was etc and for documentation. He checked the donations, checked our documents and waved us on, as all the others had done previously.

At approx 10pm we arrived at what I now know was the Dubosevica border, this was the border that led out of Croatia and into Hungary. This officer spoke very good English and as with the others directed us to a lane where we drove and waited. Same questions were asked, same documentation given as it had previously including when entering Bregana (Croatian) border. He kept asking for papers, we kept telling him that he had all the papers.

A small guy came out, later learnt a customs officer and marched around the van commenting on this and that to the officer. The next thing we know a larger lady came out who again spoke English, same questions about papers were asked. Again we answered.

We gave them everything, from where the donations had been picked up from, to the addresses of the groups where they were going in Romania. I could not understand what the problem was as we had been stopped numerous times now and each occasion we were given the all clear.

Anyway what transpired was we were directed to back into a garage, as you will see for yourselves from the videos I have uploaded they didn’t know or couldn’t deicide why we were being held, one moment it was the food, next it was the medical treatments, then it was because we hadn’t got receipts for every item we were carrying, then it was because of one paper that the customs officer in Bregana should have given us when he cleared us.

Effectively we had no idea why we were being held, why they were unloading the donations etc. We were then told that a judge/lawyer would be with us in the morning and someone from the embassy. Which was something as we knew we could argue our case and prove that the only thing that was wrong was an idiot customs officer at the Bregana border not giving us a single piece of paper. Also we knew the lanes at Bregana all had cctv, so regardless if the officer owned up to this or not, it would be clearly seen him coming on the bus,walking around, taking things of the shelves and then waving us on.

We were ordered to stay on the bus, we could not close the doors and had to sleep again on the floor of the van but this time with nothing to stop the weather conditions affecting us. Were not offered water, food at any time. The officers throughout the night were continually on and off the bus, little sleep was had.

So by the time the morning came, both Anne and I were exhausted, tired,hungry and thirsty. We were also becoming physically ill by being denied water, food and sleep. I myself awoke with a migraine and my legs and hands were swollen caused by my heart condition and lack of water. Also the searing heat was beating through the van windows. Officers were coming up to us during the night looking and laughing, literally point at us and laughing.

But through desperation and I thought I had nothing else to loose I went to the office and demanded to know what was going on. The new shift meant a new person on the desk, she just said we had been processed. I said what do you mean processed, I thought a judge was coming, someone from the embassy. This all turned out to be utter lies. No one for us was coming, just a team of custom officers and supposedly a judge who were to decide what would happen to us!

I was at this point I started screaming at the reception officer and told her what they had done was wrong, illegal and they had violated our human rights. Because we did not receive water both myself and Anne were now physically ill. The officer agreed that they had violated our human rights and ordered a cleaner who was passing to make us a hot drink! The first in over 14 hours. I demanded a lawyer, the woman said that I have a right to a lawyer. I told her I was out of credit and now my phone was not receiving calls or a signal so I couldn’t.

I asked her if I could use her phone then, she said No. I asked if she could let me use the internet to find and contact a lawyer, she said No. I pointed out that as my phone was effectively broke, that by her denying my calling a lawyer,denying my accessing the net to find and contact one, she was denying me the right to a lawyer. She just shrugged and said it wasn’t her problem and she was not guilty. You can imagine my response to this. By now I didn’t know if I was going to be sent to prison, if I would ge to see my family again, I had no idea. I had seen and heard how extreme the justice system is in communist type countries, I was absolutely terrified.

I went back outside to tell Anne the little bit of information I had found out when I noticed a woman in an office, like a porta cabin. I went in there and explained to the lady what had happened and thank God she not only spoke English but took pity on me and said I could use the phone. I tried but it wouldn’t let me call the UK,she said I could use the internet. Which I did as to be honest I had no idea how to find a Croatian lawyer, what to , who to call or anything. I was just hoping that the people on FB could help to raise the alarm and by some miracle someone could find a way to help us. As you can tell by the message, I was terrified, confused and desperate. Whilst I was typing this I was just sobbing my heart out. Everything had gone wrong and I could not understand why, we had done nothing wrong.

Message on facebook for help - A lady in a van office have allowed me to use phone and add message here. We have been left all night in the van, freezing cold. The police wont let us use there phone to call a lawyer or to ask for help. They wont give us a number to call. Even though every single bag and tin of food can be confirmed to have been donated etc they are treating this like we are major criminals. We are here alone and scared. I dont know when they will let us go or what is happening. They said a lawyer judge will be coming to see if we are giulty or not. We dont know guilty or not of what.
Like · · Share · October 6 at 9:35am

need a lawyer or animal society here who can help. please soeone conctact them for us. customs number is : 00385 31 587 137
October 6 at 9:37am · Like · 1 person

where we are beging held - Dubosevica Border, Croatia, Udvar Hungary.
October 6 at 9:38am · Like

The phone is restricted here cant call england
October 6 at 9:39am · Like

animal friends croatia please someone contact them they may be able to help..i tried but no answer
October 6 at 9:44am · Like

have to go now
October 6 at 9:44am · Like
Please help
October 6 at 9:44am · Like


After I had sent this I went back into the van and told Anne what was happening. All we could do was sit and wait, which we did. The cleaner gave us each a cup of coffee which turned out had to last us 6 hours.

Everything to this point had been a complete farce, when the custom officers (no judge) turned up they said that the evening before the police officers had decided it was Anne at fault. Neither Anne nor I could understand this, number 1 there was no fault, we had done everything by the book and the fact that I organised the mission, I had picked up the donations, I was driving , why did they choose Anne and not me?

It because clear when after my demanding to be with Anne during the interview that they had chosen Anne as she would be more likely than I to back down and agree to decline the right to appeal there decision effectively releasing the aid to them.

What would have took maybe 20 mins to complete took nearly 2 hours because I was arguing with them. Refusing to accept we were guilty of anything, refusing for them to have the aid. Eventually I left the room as was so angry and frustrated and was talking to brick walls. I told Anne over and over again do not sign that paper, do not agree, because if she did this would be her admitting guilt and they would take the aid. They reminded me a few times this was her statement not mine. And they were right, only because they had manipulated the situation to be this way. Also during my rants I stated time and again of the officer I saw walking away from the garage with a box that he never returned. That officer is the one in the video that made the racist comment about the English. This was noted by the customs officers, but I doubt if they would act on it. Also another interesting remark was made in that room, when I pointed out several times how logically this was not legal what they were doing, not logically possible for us to have committed an offence etc., they turned around and said..and I quote “ Logic doesn’t come into this”

It must have been about 10 mins after I left the room that Anne came out and told me she had signed the paper and agreed to waver her rights to appeal the customs officers decision. I wasn’t happy with this, but could understand why she did it. By this time we were both exhausted mentally and physically, they had worn us down, ridiculed us, denied us basic human rights and manipulated the whole situation including choosing Anne and not me to blame, to get them what they wanted.
I actually dread to think how many times they had done this before to people.

We had to wait until the local animal welfare group came to rescue us and the fine was paid. They had unbeknown to us, rung beforehand to let the officers know they were on there way and were told that the older one was quite nice but the younger one (me) was “rather unpleasant” and so urged them to hurry up and get us out of there. The time was getting on to about 6pm, when they arrived they brought food, water and cigarettes, then had to go and fill in forms and etc.

It was about 7-8pm when the officers finally gave us back our passports. Interestingly and this will prove what corrupt lying scum they are, before they closed the garage and locked it, they asked us what various items were in a few boxes they had took off the bus with the rest of the stuff. The items were sachets of food etc., now bare in mind they had collated a list of the contents of that garage, so the boxes they had left over that were not on the list were still retained! Yes it was food, but they didn’t know this, yet it was there intention to keep it!

The group then took us back to a house where they kindly let us bathe, made us a ameal and let us sleep the night. The next day Anne had to be rushed to hospital as her blood pressure was dangerously high, at this time I headed to a lawyer who agreed to act on our behalf free of charge. Anne barring the violation of her human rights by signing the declaration had lost all rights to appeal against the retention of the donations, but I had not.

The lawyer a Mr Marin Novakovic immediately sent a memo to the customs people demanding the goods to be retained as now there were now legal actions pending and so by the law the goods were not to be moved.

After Anne was released from hospital etc, we finally made our way back to England. It took me 2 days sold of driving to do this, with only a few hours sleep here and there.

So the situation stands as follows: The donations cannot be moved or distributed until after the court case, if there is one as our evidence totally damns the Croatian police and custom officials.

Until my lawyer in Croatia lets me know the date of the hearing etc, I have nothing else to report. The donations are there, the goods are locked up etc. But the one thing I swear to God that I will do, and I hope I have your support also on this. Is I will not stop fighting until every box,tin,bag and packet is released from Croatia and distributed to where it was intended, to the strays and rescued animals of Romania.

I will keep you updated as and when I am contacted/notified. I will also be starting a petition that I hope you will sign and share. This will not only be to expose the corruption of Croatian officials but will make the authorities aware that people who care about the rights and welfare of animals do not go down with a fight and that we will not allow them to get away with this.

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