It’s understandable for the police around Saint-Tropez to have a healthy amount of skepticism about a gassing claim before an investigation is finalized. Draguignan city prosecutor Phillippe Guemas telling Reuters, “It is absolutely not a phenomenon found in Saint-Tropez,” however...um, what?
McLaren Formula One driver Jenson Button, his wife Jessica Michibata and three others in his party were staying in a villa in Ramatuelle, near Saint-Tropez and Draguinguan. While they slept, Button’s party was robbed of over $465,000 in goods including Michibata’s wedding ring. Many suspect that anesthetic gas was used to ensure the party stayed asleep during the burglary.
“For now, there is no proof [gas was used]. This is based solely on their personal conviction as they had stomachaches when they woke up,” Guemas told Reuters.
If Guemas is anything, he’s consistent. He told the BBC, “To our knowledge there has never been a burglary like this in St. Tropez where gas was used to knock out the victims.”
Other French police told Reuters that they had no proof that soporific gas had been used in the air conditioning system. One police source even suggested to The Telegraph that the Button party may have simply been hungover, and too embarrassed to admit it:
They were obviously the worse for wear that morning and they may have been embarrassed because they didn’t wake up. People come here to party and there’s lots of drinking. In this case, it seems likely that they had been drinking the night before. The stories of people being gassed are a myth.
French police also told The Telegraph that they knew of no burglaries where anesthetic gas was used in the Saint-Tropez area.
However, if Button’s spokesman was right, then police may have changed their story from a few days ago, or may be delivering statements individually that contradict other statements made by police.
“The police have indicated that this has become a growing problem in the region with perpetrators going so far as to gas their proposed victims through the air conditioning units before breaking in,” said a Button spokesman to CNN immediately following the burglary. CNN also reports that local police declined to comment at that time.
Later, another police source told The Telegraph:
Just as the holiday clientele here is exclusive, the criminals who come here in summer to target them are also a cut above the average burglar. They’re highly skilled, well-organized and well informed. They track their victims’ movements and watch them for days or even weeks before they strike.
At the very least, there’s certainly not a unified police opinion on the matter.
Could Guemas and the others who deny that gas use in burglaries also be wrong? The Telegraph recently spoke with private investigator Patrick Boffa, who says that the Button robbery was just one in a series of similar crimes in the area. Boffa mentioned two recent cases he investigated in Ramatuelle alone:
In one case, the robbery happened in a caravan and the thieves sprayed the family with gas that almost asphyxiated them. The other was in a villa and we believe the family may have been gassed with the help of someone working there.
There have been many cases of people being attacked with gas in caravans. Those who use gas tend to be from Eastern Europe.
Boffa explained that both victims were Eastern European, both cases were over two years ago, and and both declined to report the thefts to police.
According to The Telegraph, the French press has highlighted several other high-profile burglaries in the region after Button’s burglary. Fashion designer Daniel Hechter and spy novelist Gérard de Villiers were burgled at properties minutes away from Button’s rented vacation villa. Those staying in both Hechter’s and de Villiers’ homes slept through thieves going through their homes.
Furthermore, home security firm SRX confirmed to the BBC that he had received several requests to protect homes against similar gas attacks.
So, who’s right? Are the area police saying different things in private than they are to the public?
All of these “we doubt there was gas” and “that can’t be it” statements reek of “please don’t stop traveling to this area and also kindly ignore that there is a problem at all.” Boffa concurs, concluding, “They’re trying to minimize it so they don’t scare away wealthy visitors, especially the Russians who’ll stop coming if they think they can easily be targeted here.”
To the local police’s credit, however, the Royal College of Anaesthetists also doubts the use of gas in Button’s robbery. A spokesman for the group told the BBC that while they cannot rule out that “some sort of agent” was used to keep Button’s party asleep, they said that the amount of anesthetic gas that would be needed to pull off such a feat would be very expensive and hard to acquire. They ruled such a use of gas “highly unlikely.”
To check just in case it’s a problem, blood and urine samples have been taken brom Button and his entourage. According to Reuters, we will not know the results of those tests for several days.
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