The heartbroken father of Lance Corporal Darren Lackie, who tragically died while on holiday in the Algarve, has left a distraught plea with Portuguese authorities to prevent his brave son’s death from becoming “another tourist statistic”, by carrying out a full investigation. A preliminary investigation concluded Darren’s death was an accident; his father is convinced Darren was the victim of a drugging and mugging gone wrong.
Speaking to The Portugal News the day before he left the Algarve to return to Scotland, Darren Lackie’s inconsolable father Graham, 51, said: “I don’t want my son’s death to be just another statistic” of holidaymakers abroad.
Scottish Lance Corporal Darren Lackie, from Cupar, Fife, who served in Afghanistan, died on Mother’s Day after spending four days in Faro Hospital’s intensive care ward on a life support machine.
He was admitted during the early hours of Thursday morning, 31 March, after being found unconscious on a street in Albufeira with life-threatening head injuries.
His body was found on the terrace of the O Poeta restaurant, on the Albufeira’s popular ‘strip’. Darren Lackie had been enjoying a dream holiday with his childhood sweetheart, hairdresser Ashleigh Wilson, also 21, while on “well deserved” army leave.
He was described by his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Edward Fenton, as “bright, brave, enthusiastic and entirely professional”; a “rising young star who had already taken the first steps towards higher rank and greater responsibility.”
A preliminary police report recorded “accidental death” with “no one else involved”, though Darren Lackie’s family have refuted this scenario from day one. It was also initially suggested alcohol may have played a roll in Darren’s fall, though his dad vehemently refuted these suggestions, explaining:
“At no time in any report I’ve seen does it mention that Darren had had a drink.
“I’m not saying he didn’t, he might have had a few pints.
But there’s an assumption he’s just another drunk holidaymaker. I’ve never seen him fall over with drink in my life.“Graham Lackie broke down as he said: “I don’t want my son to be thought of as someone who came out here, had a holiday, and died in the way they said he did.”
Mr. Lackie Sr. arrived in the Algarve on Thursday last week with his ex-wife Helen after being contacted by Darren’s frantic girlfriend. He also received a call from Faro Hospital.
“I was told to get here ‘as soon as’ and be prepared to stay. I was told Darren had had a fall and I was quite happy to believe that at the time”
But suspicions over the nature of Darren’s ‘accident’ were roused when a doctor, who spoke fluent English, cast doubts on the consistency of a fall theory with the injuries sustained.
“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when you fall, you fall forward. But when you fall backwards, ninety-nine times out of a hundred you land on the crown of your head. The trauma Darren had is behind his ear. And Darren was trained to fall”, his father reasoned.
A toxicology report found traces of a barbiturate in Darren’s system, but his father is adamant his son “never touched drugs.”
“My son was a Black Watch solider. Being in the army he had to do periodical drug tests. He knew if they found anything like that it would be a one-way ticket out.”
Mr. Lackie Sr. added, “I know my son. He never touched drugs and he never took sleeping pills. And if you’re 21 and on holiday the last thing you’re going to do anyway is take sleeping pills.
“I try to see things objectively. But I cannot see how they can possibly say it was an accident. It just doesn’t sit well.”
Graham Lackie spoke to his son on Wednesday evening at around 7.30pm, as Darren and Ashleigh were getting ready to go out. At around 10pm, just two-and-a-half hours later, the couple returned to their holiday apartment at the Oura View Beach Club after Ashleigh complained of feeling “sick and sleepy.”
“Darren walked with Ashleigh back to the hotel.
She went to lie on the bed and Darren lay down beside her.
She fell straight to sleep and slept for nearly nine hours solid, which is out of character for Ashleigh.
Then at some point Darren got up and went out”, Mr. Lackie recounted, adding “I’m convinced he was hungry – he wasn’t the kind of guy who would leave his girlfriend in the hotel to go drinking.”
Miss Wilson has since told Scottish press that she is certain their drinks were spiked.
She told the Daily Record: “There is something very wrong about what happened. I had to go home early that night.
“I think our drinks may have been spiked. We’d only had a couple at a local bar, but I felt really unwell.”
The family’s suspicions grew deeper when Mr. Lackie collected a bag with his son’s belongings from the hospital.
“I know my son and there are two things that he took everywhere with him: money and his iPhone. If he needed £10 Darren would take £30, he didn’t do ‘just enough’, in anything. And he had a brand new iPhone that was his baby.”
No money or the iPhone were found at the scene of the incident, nor have they been recovered since.
And there are other aspects relating to his son’s death that Graham Lackie is struggling to make sense of.
“The police didn’t seem to ask anyone anything. I have been here a week and they haven’t come to talk to me yet. As far as I know they haven’t spoken to Ashleigh.”
He questioned: “Why did no one go to the Oura View and check the CCTV to see what time Darren went back out, to get some kind of a time frame?
“As far as I know [the police] never tried to trace his movements or establish where he went.”
In Mr. Lackie’s opinion, “The drinks were spiked, Darren woke up starving and went to look for something to eat, and coming back he was set upon and hit.
“[He was] probably just meant to have been mugged, and what he was hit with we don’t know, but it was the cause of whatever traumas he had.”
Despite suffering a tragic loss in dubious circumstances, and in a foreign country, answers seem to be few and far between for the devastated family.
“Every question I’ve asked there’s no answer for. They won’t give me an answer. It just sticks with me, that the more they won’t answer my questions, the more it seems to be they’re hiding something, they’re trying to cover something up.
“And I understand that this is the start of the tourist season, I understand all of that (…) but there’s apathy with the police here. It seems they don’t want to acknowledge what’s happening, but sooner or later they’re going to have to stand up and look at themselves and say ‘this has to stop’.”
Mr. Lackie reasoned: “If they could answer my questions satisfactorily I would accept that maybe Darren did fall. But I know in my heart of hearts he didn’t. And people can say I’m a grieving dad – yes, I am a grieving dad, but I’m not stupid.”
Graham Lackie returned to Scotland last weekend on Saturday, 9 Apr, following a shattering week of “muddled days” and unanswered questions.
But he promised he would not be letting up on the investigation into his son’s death.
“I’m not going to stop asking questions” he vowed; “I’ve got to get justice for my son.”
A full military funeral for Lance Corporal Darren Lackie’s will take place in his
ometown on Friday this week, 15 April, a Black Watch Internet forum confirmed. It is believed his body was repatriated last Saturday.
The posting read: “The funeral service for LCpl. Darren Lackie of 3SCOTS, who died whilst on holiday in Portugal, is to be held at 11.30am on Friday 15 April 2011, at St Johns. Dairsie, United Parish Church, Bonnygate, Cupar, Fife. The interment will then follow at Cupar Cemetery at approximately 1pm.”
Meanwhile, the Public Prosecutor’s Office this week again told The Portugal News an investigation into the soldier’s death is ongoing, but is still governed by Portugal’s secrecy laws.