A former British soldier has gone on trial with 12 others in France accused of kidnapping a wealthy hotel heiress.
Jacqueline Veyrac, 80, the owner of the five-star Grand Hotel in Cannes, was snatched from the street near her home in October 2016.
She was found two days later having been held bound and gagged for 48 hours in the back of a Renault Kangoo, where she had been forced to sleep on a filthy mattress.
Veyrac, who also owns La Reserve restaurant in Nice, had been the victim of another kidnap attempt three years previously.
The main suspect is Giuseppe Serena, the former manager of La Reserve. Prosecutors claim he held a bitter grudge against Veyrac after she terminated his contract in 2009. He is accused of organising and ordering her abduction in order to extract a ransom with which he would open a new restaurant.
Serena, 67, is also accused of masterminding a failed 2013 kidnap attempt. He is charged with “complicity in kidnapping and attempted extortion as part of a gang” but denies involvement in either plot to snatch the rich hotel owner.
The former British soldier Philip Dutton, 52, is also in the dock accused of involvement in the kidnapping and the 2013 plot. He allegedly intended to demand a 5m euro ransom, intending to keep 10 per cent according to investigators, but was reportedly unable to contact the Veyrac family.
All 13 accused were present in the courtroom at the trial’s opening. Veyrac was expected to attend on Thursday when she is due to testify.
On Monday 24 October 2016, two masked men ambushed Veyrac as she was about to get into her SUV and bundled her into a stolen van. One of the kidnappers allegedly threatened to kill her if she made any noise and she told police she was forced to drink a sedative.
While the van was parked and the kidnappers absent, Veyrac repeatedly kicked the inside of the vehicle, alerting a passerby who rescued her and alerted the police.
Detectives later said Veyrac had behaved heroically by trying to escape her captors several times and refusing the food they offered.
Among the other defendants is the former paparazzo turned private detective Luc Goursolas, 50, known as Tintin, who is accused of fitting a tracking device to Veyrac’s car. He has admitted placing a device but said he knew nothing of the kidnap plan.
The Nice public prosecutor Jean-Michel Prêtre, speaking in 2016, said the kidnapping had been “particularly violent” and that Veyrac had been restrained with plastic cuffs to her ankles and wrists, and had at one point been blindfolded and gagged.
When Veyrac had tried to escape “she was threatened with further violence and her restraints were tightened”, he added. “When she was found, she had injuries where she had been tied caused by her trying to free herself … she suffered a very real ordeal.”
Dutton, from Liverpool, told his lawyer he had served in the special forces in the British military and had suffered serious burns in a mine explosion in Afghanistan in 2011. He said he was homeless in Nice and had been sleeping on the beach, where he had met one of the other suspects.
The Grand Hotel on Cannes’ celebrated Croisette is popular with celebrities attending the annual film festival and other VIP visitors to the Côte d’Azur.