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It was 10 pm and my father lay on the white sheet of the hotel bed. For a moment he gazed at the moon through the window. It was his way of saying goodnight to his beloved wife, my mother. He also hoped no southern mosquito would find its way through the tear in the net . As always, however, he was soon rocked to sleep by the sound of the tide slapping on the nearby beach.
In 1964 and at that time of the night there was almost complete silence in the fishing village of Los Cristianos. The Hostal Reverón was the only hotel in the area before southern Tenerife became a vast tourist resort. It was family-run and quite adequate. Electricity was produced by that noisy generator and although there was no hot water the rooms were spotless and the service was amicable. It was all there was, all one expected and all one needed in those days. In fact it was paradise after a day visiting the farmers in the dusty south of Tenerife.
Puerto de la Cruz - 17.06.2008
- My father, apart from his official position in Puerto de la Cruz and other interests, represented a Scottish fruit importer in Glasgow called McLeod and he enjoyed touring around the tomato plantations, not just to make sure he got the best of the season’s crop for his client but also to talk about anything but tomatoes with his farming friends. It was an easy going way of life. My mother sometimes accompanied him and instead of spending a night or two at the Reverón they often camped, remembering their days in Africa, on a barren piece of land above what is now the main beach at Las Américas. However on this occasion my father’s visit to the southern tomato plantations became, according to his account, tremendous fun. As always he was making an early start in the morning and had just showered when there was a considerate, quiet knock on the door of his room. “Don Noel, soy Eugenio”, said the voice behind the door, “they want to talk to you!” When he opened the door he found the porter, Eugenio, and two policemen. It was Herrero and Peréstolo, the two Guardia Civil Lieutenants from Granadilla he so often met on their patrols on the dusty roads around the south of Tenerife. “Forgive our disturbing you Don Noel but there is a matter of great urgency,” whispered the older of the two policemen. Before my father had time to imagine that something dreadful had happened at home the other Lieutenant explained, “we have orders to take you to La Laguna immediately. Apparently the British authorities need you to make a citizen’s arrest.” My father’s face lit up with sheer delight. This was just his cup of tea! Without going into detail, in his official position and in the absence of Her Majesty’s Consul who was away at the time, my father was the first British subject the local authorities turned to for assistance.
The sound of the generator faded at last, the lights dimmed and all was quiet except for a dog barking somewhere in the distance.
This was and still is a small island but it had taken time to track Don Noel down. There were no mobile telephones in those days. In fact there were no direct telephone connections at all anywhere in the islands. All calls were made through the women at the telephone exchange. Connecting a telephone in Puerto de la Cruz with one in the south of the island could take as long as fifteen minutes. The private caller would wind up the telephone to be connected with what was known locally as the ‘central’. The female operator would then make a connection with an intermediate operator in another town and she would then plug in on the switchboard to make the final connection. The women at the central would very often know more about the movements of certain individuals than anyone else.
In fact, when the Guardia Civil tried to telephone my father at home the operator didn’t bother to disturb my mother so early in the morning. She simply told the police that Don Noel was not at home but on business in the south. It was through the intermediate operator at Arafo, where the English señor had been to see Eduardo Curbelo, one of the tomato growers, on the previous afternoon that they were informed that he was almost certainly in Los Cristianos and possibly at the Hostal Reverón.
Unlike the interfering mobile but very like the Apache smoke signals, the women at the telephone exchange kept the island community in touch efficiently and discretely. Unfortunately, on that particular morning, the operator in Los Cristianos turned up at her post late and missed the call. My father could not be reached through the telephone network so the Guardia Civil officers drove to Los Cristianos to look for him. The Guardia Civil from Granadilla drove my father at speed to La Laguna where he was handed over to their colleagues at the force’s H.Q. It was on the way to the airport that he was fully debriefed about the situation. Someone had tipped them off after apparently recognising a wanted Englishman. He had been spotted having a drink at the Lido San Telmo, the in-place in Puerto de la Cruz. In fact he had been buying rounds of drinks in several bars for a day or two and had been staying in a friend’s apartment. Local police investigations led them to believe the Englishman would be catching the early Madrid flight from Los Rodeos to Madrid that very morning in order to then take the transatlantic plane to Caracas in Venezuela.
There being no extradition treaty or police cooperation agreement between Britain and Spain in the 1960s the local police needed a British subject to make a citizen’s arrest in order to assist their colleagues at Scotland Yard. They had no obligation to act but this seemed to be a special case. The gentleman my father was to arrest was Bruce Reynolds, mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery in August 1963. Unfortunately the plane to Madrid could not be delayed any longer and Don Noel and his Guardia Civil companions could only watch as it disappeared into the horizon. That missed phone call in Los Cristianos had let Mr. Reynolds get away. Then, possibly due to bureaucratic delays in Madrid, he was able to avoid detention there too although he was tracked down five years later and convicted to ten years in jail.By John Young