On 2 September 2003, a Dutchman named Romano van der Dussen walked to the beach in Fuengirola, a resort on Spain’s Costa del Sol. It was noon, and the high-rise apartment blocks along the seafront shimmered in the heat. Van der Dussen opened a can of beer, lay down on his towel and looked out at the Mediterranean.
He had moved to Spain three years before to start a new life. It hadn’t always been the paradise he had dreamed of. He had lost his job working in an ice-cream parlour and broken up with his partner, and he saw little of his two-year-old daughter. Often, he slept in the vestibule of his old apartment building, to which he still had a key, or on the couch at a friend’s house. But he was only 30 years old and he knew there was plenty of time to sort things out.
At around 5pm, van der Dussen left the beach and was walking along the promenade when a police car pulled up. Two officers got out and told him to stop. One of them addressed van der Dussen by name and held up an identikit photograph. “This is you, isn’t it?” he said. The picture showed a man with long, scraggly hair, bulging eyes and a broad nose. Van der Dussen, who has small eyes, a pointed nose and wore his hair short, said he saw no similarity. Instead, he asked if this had anything to do with the shopfront window that he had smashed the previous year while drunk; he´d already paid damages for that. The officers said this was about a different matter, which they would only discuss at the police station.
Van der Dussen was gregarious and well-liked by friends and work colleagues, but he could also be irascible. When the policemen insisted he should go with them, he pushed one of the officers and swung his arms wildly as he tried to flee. But the officers quickly pinned him down, cuffed his hands and bundled him into the back of their car…
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