On Sunday August 31 1997 I drove to a house I was refurbishing in Jimena de la Frontera. It was totally isolated, down a dirt lane with no other houses in the area apart from a hut in which lived Isidro. Isidro was around 80, had bad eyesight, no electricity in his home, his life revolved around the valley apart from the lottery results. As I drove up around 9.00 he rushed out and in solemn terms commiserated with me over the death of Princess Diana in Paris hours earlier. To this day I ask myself, how did he know?
The world in technology terms has moved on but I was still stunned on Saturday afternoon when I received an email from France, from a friend who has no links with Gibraltar, commenting on the attack on Fabian Picardo. Whilst it was hot news in the village that is Gibraltar word had obviously spread to the Global Village too.
What concerned me most was the part that read: “It all sounds worrying after that other politician was attacked some months ago. Is it open season on Gibraltarian politicians at the moment?” So what appears to have been an unprovoked attack on Picardo and his best man at his coming wedding suddenly has become woven in to a scenario of the Rock’s politicians being attacked in the streets.
All the indications are that there was no political motive involved in the Picardo assault, especially as there were a number of other such incidents over the weekend. The vicious attack on Danny Feetham last November was in entirely a different category. When the case comes to court it may emerge the attacker targeted the Minister of Justice but would have done so regardless of who he or she was or the party to which they were affiliated.
So Gibraltar gives a collective gasp of relief the weekend attack was on Fabian Picardo, a light night diner, rather than the leader of the opposition. Indeed sitting outside Gibraltar’s parliament on Friday I marvelled at how just one single policeman guarded the government and opposition inside; how the MPs left and then walked through the streets without the need for a bodyguard.
However it is this friendly face of Gibraltar that was attacked both on Friday night and over the weekend. The Rock is famous for all its ethnic and religious communities living in peaceful harmony in stark contrast to much of the rest of the world.
Yet what if it hadn’t been two able bodied men walking back to their car on Friday night? What if it had been a man or woman alone? What if it had been an elderly couple? What if it had been tourists visiting the Rock. What would the outcome of the fracas have been? What would the news headlines have been both here and abroad?
For whilst it is comforting to know it is not “open season on Gibraltar’s politicians” what message does it send to residents and visitors that want to dine out? The news there were other weekend attacks is not reassuring but more alarming in this scenario.
Make no mistake it was not the leader of the opposition who was attacked on Friday night but Gibraltar’s good name – and urgent government action is needed to ensure all go safely on the Rock’s streets, whatever the hour, in the future. The chief minister turns a blind eye at his peril.