Tourist held in Spain after forest fire

A TOURIST from Essex suspected of accidentally starting a massive forest fire last month is still stranded in Spain.Michael Hanks, 59, of Colchester, had his passport seized by a judge while Spanish authorities investigate a blaze which raged for two days in the Granada region of southern Spain.

A TOURIST from Essex suspected of accidentally starting a massive forest fire last month is still stranded in Spain.

Michael Hanks, 59, of Colchester, had his passport seized by a judge while Spanish authorities investigate a blaze which raged for two days in the Granada region of southern Spain.

Mr Hanks, who is chief executive of Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association, is reported to have started a small fire to act as a beacon when he and a 50-year-old French woman companion got lost while hiking through a national park on September 22.

The pair were quickly found by the Spanish Civil Guard mountain rescue patrols, but the fire spread and destroyed nearly 3,000 hectares of forest, including a pine forest which had taken 60 years to re-populate.


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Over 150 firemen, 25 fire engines, and seven helicopters and five fire-fighting aircraft were used to battle against the blaze, which was finally brought under control two days later.

Mr Hanks and his companion appeared in court on September 23. They were released without charge, but their passports were taken and they were ordered to report to the court every three days while the investigation continued.

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It is reported that the pair were ordered to deposit 18,000 euros to go towards the costs of the emergency operation.

The pair are believed to have a holiday home in the region, which they had just finished renovating.

A statement from Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association said: "The normal arrangements for covering the chief executive's absence whilst he is on holiday are in place. We anticipate that Mike will return to work as planned."

The statement said it is believed that Mr Hanks is "well".

Last week Fair Trials Abroad director Stephen Jakobi said he feared Mr Hanks and his companion might become "scapegoats" for the Spanish authorities.

"There's a real danger they will be used as scapegoats for official negligence.

"Foreigners make very useful scapegoats and the Spanish legal system is very dodgy when it comes to accusations and proving beyond reasonable doubt. They don't seem to work on that principle most of the time."

The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday there has been no change in Mr Hanks' case.

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