British tourist shot dead in Venezuela hotel robbery

| Jul. 21, 2011 | Caracas, Venezuela

Published by The Times //pdf1//

Girish Gupta and Laura Dixon

A British tourist has been shot dead on holiday in Venezuela when he and his brother fought back against a gang who had tricked their way into their hotel.

Thomas Ossel, 28, described as a great traveller by friends, was shot in the jaw during the failed robbery in the island of Margarita, which is popular with tourists for its white sandy beaches.

Mr Ossel, 28, a firefighter from Bedfordshire, and his brother Jack, 21, were about to leave the hotel when they came under attack. The younger brother was taken to hospital after the attack on Monday night but was later discharged.

Luis Garavin, a Venezuelan police official, told a local radio station that officers believed the gunmen were trying to rob the pair and opened fire when they resisted.

The owner of the hotel said today that the gang tricked him into letting them into the hotel to see a room.

“Four people came to the hotel and asked if there was availability for them. I opened the door and seconds later, one pulled a gun and shouted, ‘This is a robbery’,” said Peter Eggersdorfer, 48.

Mr Eggersdorfer was then hit over the head with a pistol before being held hostage in the kitchen with other guests as an armed group started going through the rooms, fighting with guests and firing.

“I heard four shots, one of which killed Thomas Ossel,” he said. “The robbers fled very quickly in a car waiting by the back door. Ossel had been shot and was already dead.”

The hotel owner added: “It is stupid, mad, suicidal to resist a gang of robbers here when they have a gun in your face. In this situation, it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. I am very sad, though, that this boy’s life ended like this.”

Today the father of the two men, Ben, arrived in the country to see his younger son as family and friends paid tribute to a hard-working firefighter who loved to travel.

Jacqueline Baxter, a family friend, said that Thomas was a “real adventurer” and a “real character”. She said: “I spoke to Jack last night. He’s been coping remarkably well. He was very lucid. I’m sure it will hit him when he comes home.”

Paul Wynne, a friend who recently bought a house with Thomas in Bedford, said: “Tom was one of those people who could never sit still for more than five minutes. Our house is full of his travelling books. He would always read up on a place before he went there.

“Tom knew a lot about a lot of things — he was very intelligent. He always wanted to see how other countries worked.”

He also said that the two brothers were “very close” and had travelled to Trinidad and Tobago previously and were due to travel on to Colombia as the next stop of their six-week holiday. “Tom was very protective over his friends and especially his brother,” he said. “He would have wanted to protect Jack out there.”

On his MySpace page, the elder brother wrote about his love of travel, saying: “Have been to nearly 40 countries now...would love to make it 100 one day!” He also described himself as a Liverpool FC fan and a keen cook and travel photographer.

Colleagues who worked with him at the London Fire Brigade were said to be devastated at what had happened. “It’s terrible news for the whole brigade,” a spokesperson said today. “Really, really sad news.”

Ron Dobson, the London Fire Commissioner, said: “We were shocked and saddened to learn of Tom’s untimely death. I know he will be sorely missed by his fellow firefighters.

“Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this sad and difficult time.”

Margarita Island, with its long white sandy beaches, is popular among tourists and is also famous as a luxury resort- Colonel Muammar Gaddafi stayed there with the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2009.

However, a reputation as a wealthy tourist destination has in the past attracted trouble. Mr Ossel is the third foreign tourist to have been killed in Margarita this year.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We can confirm the death of a British national, Thomas Ossel, on Margarita Island, Venezuela, on July 18.

“We are providing consular assistance to the family both in the UK and in Venezuela. We are in regular contact with both the family and the local authorities.”

Travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns that street crime in Venezuela is high, and that armed muggings and “express kidnappings” — opportunistic abductions to extort money from someone — are regular occurrences.