3 Jun, 2020 @ 15:10
3 mins read

UK’s Foreign Office call centre thought British dementia sufferer in late 60s was ‘drunk’ in the crucial hours before his death

Missing Man Last Picture Of Philip Pearce In Alicante Airport 490x694 2

THE British Foreign Office (FCO) thought a British holidaymaker suffering dementia on the Costa Blanca was ‘drunk’ and just needed to ‘sober up’, the Olive Press can reveal.

A Freedom of Information request concerning the death of British grandfather Philip Pearce, 68, shows the FCO’s emergency contact centre believed he was ‘not vulnerable’ just hours before his death in a ditch in Benidorm.

Documents seen by the Olive Press show Spanish cops telephoned a Malaga-based call centre asking for assistance with Philip, who had lost his bearings after going out for ‘cigarettes’.

He had been taken to the station around 10pm on September 9, last year, by a concerned British tourist who spotted Philip in a ‘disoriented state’.

Missing Man Last Picture Of Philip Pearce In Alicante Airport 490x694 2

Police asked a consular contact centre assistant what to do with Philip, who did not speak Spanish, and whether the FCO could figure out where his hotel was.

But an internal FCO report reveals Philip, from Bridgwater, in Somerset, told the FCO officer he ‘couldn’t remember where he was staying’.

Furthermore, he couldn’t even remember ‘where he lived in the UK’.

Making matters worse, it was during the horrific ‘gota fria’ storms, which saw temperature highs of 28 degrees followed by torrential rainfall and flooding.

As the Olive Press revealed in a front page story in November, Philip was believed to suffer a sudden onset of vascular dementia, perhaps brought on by the weather, and was not well.

Yet, incredibly, Benidorm Police let Philip leave the station at 3am on September 10, leading to his son Lee Pearce, 41, to insist the Spanish police had ‘failed’ in their duty to protect him..

“But I think in that phone call the FCO had the power to keep Dad alive,” Lee told the Olive Press this week. 

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Benidorm Policia Nacional released a CCTV image of Philip outside their station in the early hours of September 10

An internal email seen by the Olive Press shows clearly that he was not well, with a consular official confirming in the following days that he ‘kept saying he was in England’ and had ‘no clue’ he was in Spain’ during that fateful phone call.

Despite these signs of senility, a spokesperson for the FCO told the Olive Press they were ‘not made aware that Mr Pearce was vulnerable’.

An internal report on Philip, a former joiner, just says ‘Police will hold onto [Philip] until he sobers up’.

Philip’s later disappearance made headlines in the UK and Spain, until he was identified in February from a ‘severely decomposed’ corpse found just 2km from the police station.

The corpse carried the same amount of money as when Philip was registered in the station, a death certificate revealed.

Philip’s son, Lee, told the Olive Press: “It leaves me speechless how a 68-year-old man with clear signs of dementia was let go in the worst storm for 100 years.

“You wouldn’t let your own dog out in that weather.

“I believe that had the authorities realised my dad was not drunk, but had got dementia, he would still be with us.”

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Philip was buried in Bridgwater, Somerset, last Thursday with people in the town lining the streets in respect

Dave McQueen, who is acting as the Pearce family spokesman, and who obtained the FCO documents, said the FCO phone call was ‘crucial’ in the disappearance and death of Philip.

He said lawyers are still working on the case to find answers from the Spanish police’s handling of the situation.

A spokesperson for the FCO maintained that Philip was the ‘responsibility’ of the Spanish authorities.

“We class a British national as vulnerable if they cannot protect themselves from significant physical or emotional harm, or be protected by others,” he said.

“Our Global Response Centre provides emergency support to British nationals globally when embassies and consulates are closed. As Mr Pearce was with the Spanish authorities, who were best placed to provide assistance, and we were not made aware by them that Mr Pearce may be vulnerable.”

An FCO spokesperson said staff have access to ‘detailed guidance and training on a wide range of issues, including mental health and mental capacity’ – despite this, there are zero guidelines for dementia patients abroad on the FCO’s website.

It comes as Philip’s body will be buried in Bridgwater today (May 28), with just a maximum of 10 people due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A report from the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society this year also revealed emergency dementia admissions to UK hospitals are up 35% in the last five years.

Joshua Parfitt

Joshua James Parfitt is the Costa Blanca correspondent for the Olive Press. He holds a gold-standard NCTJ in multimedia journalism from the award-winning News Associates in Twickenham. His work has been published in the Sunday Times, Esquire, the Mail on Sunday, the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Sun on Sunday, the Mirror, among others. He has appeared on BBC Breakfast to discuss devastating flooding in Spain, as well as making appearances on BBC and LBC radio stations.

Contact me now: [email protected] or call +44 07960046259. Twitter: @jjparfitt

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