Dom Research Center   News Clippings: Cyprus

What went wrong?
in Cyprus Mail, July 15, 2004

By Stefanos Evripidou

Limassol searches for answers in the aftermath of Salih’s brutal murder

THE 11-YEAR-OLD boy who was stabbed to death in Limassol by a mentally disturbed man on Tuesday had received eight fatal blows to his body and head, his autopsy yesterday revealed.

The city’s mood has been described as ‘heavy’ in the murder’s aftermath, with many parents now doubting the safety of a place that was once considered a children’s hang out.

Meanwhile, the tragic incident has highlighted flaws in the level of psychiatric supervision of patients moving freely within the community.

Turkish Cypriot Salih Mehmet Ozhovarda had been playing with Greek and Turkish Cypriot friends near his house on the wooden gangway near the old Limassol port on Tuesday when he was attacked by 29-year-old Andreas Nicolaou, also from Limassol.

Using a kitchen knife, Nicolaou stabbed the boy seven times in the stomach, chest and back before nailing the knife in his right temple. Salih died soon after arriving at Limassol General Hospital.

There was initial confusion as to his age, but it was confirmed yesterday that Salih was 11-years-old. His parents are of gypsy origin and have lived peacefully in Limassol for the past two years with their five children.

Nicolaou was caught by the coastal guard attempting to escape and arrested immediately. He was examined by a doctor who declared that he was suffering from psychosis. Police announced the 29-year-old was known to authorities because of his history of psychosis and drug abuse. Fearing that the crime might be construed as being politically motivated, police increased patrols in all areas of Limassol where Turkish Cypriots live.

At the hospital where the boy’s family and friends had gathered the atmosphere was described as highly emotional. The government and parties immediately sent their condolences to the family and appealed for calm. Police said the crime appeared to be random.

Nicolaou was placed in Athalassa Psychiatric Unit for observation. He was deemed fit to attend court yesterday where he was served an eight day remand and then escorted back to the psychiatric unit where he remains under observation.

Police revealed that Nicolaou was a known drug user, had served four years in prison for drug smuggling, in 1999, and had also undergone treatment for psychosis twice at the Limassol psychiatric ward.

Pathologist Panicos Stavrianos in the presence of an officer from the United Nations performed yesterday’s autopsy. He revealed that Salih was the victim of eight fatal stab wounds. “Each blow caused the collapse of internal organs, perforation of the lungs and heart, and brain damage,” said Stavrianos, adding that, “all the stabbings were fatal and the chance of survival for the boy was minimal.”

The pathologist called on the authorities to warn communities and neighbourhoods where patients under psychiatric supervision are staying so people could at least watch for their children.

Acting Limassol district officer Kyprianos Mattheou met the boy’s parents at the hospital to express the government’s condolences and gave them a £500 cheque to cover expenses of the funeral. The parents have requested for their son to be buried in Morphou. The funeral will take place today.

Interior Minister Andreas Christou expressed his shock at what happened and called for calm. He stressed the need to create a climate of trust and calm after the incident.

“It is something which upsets us tremendously. It has literally created a heavy climate in Limassol because it happened in broad daylight, in front of 20-30 mainly young people, who were playing on the gangway. There were Greek and Turkish Cypriot children and other children too – English I think,” said Christou.

“We must be very careful. This shows sometimes how a completely unrelated event can electrify the atmosphere as happened in Limassol.”

Assistant to the Chief of Police, Soteris Charalambous, confirmed that Nicolaou was in a very sick state when in custody, adding that he had very little control of his actions. Police are looking into whether he was under the influence of drugs or was suffering withdrawal symptoms when he killed Salih.

Charalambous added that Nicolaou had no specific reason for his actions. Any of the children there could have fallen victim to his attack.

One Limassol resident told the paper she was now very concerned about her children’s safety. The gangway near the old port is considered a safe place for children to play and is a favourite spot for games, fishing and swimming. Many Limassol residents use the area for strolling in the evenings.

The brutal crime has brought to the foreground shortcomings in the state’s psychiatric services. Law Commissioner Leda Koursoumba yesterday refused to be drawn into the circumstances of the case without knowing the full facts, but highlighted that an inquiry was needed to clarify who was providing psychiatric treatment to Nicolaou, how and why.

Koursoumba explained that there was much confusion in the system for people under psychiatric treatment. “What do you do with people under psychiatric treatment? How does the state supervise people with psychiatric illnesses, particularly someone who has committed a crime and is a severe case?” she asked. A person who commits a crime and serves their full sentence will not be allocated a parole officer and are not obligated to undergo further treatment.

“There is confusion here: a fault in the system as to who does it and how do they do it. This issue was raised in the Health Ministry last year for people under psychiatric treatment. But there is still a lacuna, a link missing.”

Psychiatric patients are not obliged to turn up for meetings with doctors where they are given necessary medication.

Deputy Chief Charalambous said he recognised the flaws in the system, highlighting that there were no safeguards to make a patient see his doctor every week or whenever he was scheduled to collect his medication.

“When he was released, he was deemed safe, but there was no obligation to see his doctor. There is no safeguard where the psychiatric unit could warn police that someone hasn’t turned up for his medication.”

“Maybe this is the problem. The Health Ministry doesn’t have the mechanism in place to make a patient who misses his appointment return to his doctor,” said Charalambous.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of each individual author. The views and opinions do not represent those held by the Dom Research Center.

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