Tourist relives bandit nightmare

By James MortlockAN angry student who was part of a group of divers shot at by gun-wielding bandits on an idyllic island has revealed one member of the gang had threatened to "shoot them all".

By James Mortlock

AN angry student who was part of a group of divers shot at by gun-wielding bandits on an idyllic island has revealed one member of the gang had threatened to "shoot them all".

Sarah Nichol, who is recovering from the "harrowing" ordeal at her home in Westley, near Bury St Edmunds, said what should have been a trip of a lifetime to work on a coral reef conservation project off Tanzania turned into a nightmare in the space of seconds.

The 21-year-old Edinburgh University student also felt the organisers of the trip, Frontier, should have done more to warn of the dangers of such robberies following a previous incident in February this year.

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Miss Nichol is convinced she and her fellow divers are lucky to be alive after the gang opened fire - shooting her friend, Grace Forster, 18, from Cambridgeshire, through the leg.

The bullet passed through Miss Forster's right side, narrowly missing her spine, and into the leg of 20-year-old Robert Scott, who was sitting next to her.

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Miss Nichol, who was on the remote island of Pemba with 24 other conservation volunteers, said at first the group had no idea they had been in danger.

"We were sitting, eating, just chatting away when we heard the gunshot. We didn't think it was anything to do with us - we thought they were probably shooting animals," she recalled.

"We weren't aware what was happening until Grace jumped up screaming. Then they told us to 'Get down and shut up' and shouted the word money at us."

Miss Nichol said she realised her friend had been shot and was desperately worried she had been killed. "Because we had been told to shut up Grace wasn't saying anything, but we didn't know if she was just keeping quite or whether she was dead," she added.

She recalled the bandits had spoken in Swahili, but knew enough English to leave the group in no doubt what they wanted.

They later found out from one of the guides who was fluent in Swahili that members of the gang had fought over what to do.

"There was one really evil one who was saying they should shoot us all, but another just wanted to take our money and possessions. It's terrifying to think what could have happened," she said.

Miss Nichol - who added her parents, Paul and Topsy, and brother Liam, 24, were relieved she had made it home safely - was angry that the group had not been sufficiently warned about the previous attack near Pemba.

"I am angry because we did not know. It should have been the trip of a lifetime we were all hoping for. It was a beautiful place and it's such a shame this had to happen," she said.

Frontier said security had been reviewed earlier in the year. Its secretary, William Hedley-Miller, was not available for comment last night but has previously said volunteers had moved from the island, parents informed and senior representatives flown to Tanzania to help following last week's shooting.

He has previously added that Frontier had pulled out of its conservation project to Pemba since the incident and was reviewing security for future expeditions. "We carry out risk assessments. This was deeply regrettable. Our sympathy goes to the volunteers," said Mr Hedley-Miller.

Miss Nichol, who lost £100 to the robbers, said she determined to continue with similar conservation work in the future, but for now was happy to get on with her summer job in the medical records department at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

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