French lay-by bandits prey on holiday Britons

By Michael Taggart

BRITONS on the way to the South of France this summer have been warned to keep car doors locked as they drive and not to park in isolated spots following a series of violent roadside hold-ups.

Bandits are targeting cars with foreign number plates because the owners are likely to be tired after a long journey and unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Last night a British victim said she would never go to France again after a terrifying smash-and-grab raid on her family's BMW.

Natascha Dunckley, her husband Lloyd and their two young daughters were on the way to Montpellier, in southern France, from their home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Mr Dunckley, 33, an accountant, stopped at a small service area only an hour short of their camp site at 1.30am so the four could sleep.

'There were loads of lorries and we deliberately parked near a few of them for safety,' said 35-year-old Mrs Dunckley, an office administrator.

Her husband stayed in the driving seat, their three-year-old daughter Isabel was curled up on the back seat, while Mrs Dunckley was reclining in the front passenger seat with 16-month- old Ella sleeping in her arms.

'We were woken up two hours later with the sound of smashing and I felt a sharp pain in my head,' she said.

'A large rock had come through the rear window and landed on my head.

'There was blood and glass everywhere and a youth reached in and grabbed my

handbag. My husband got out of the car and chased two teenagers but they got away.'

The robbers had plunged a knife into a rear tyre, leaving Mr Dunckley unable to follow them in his car. Staff at a petrol station called police and an ambulance.

Mr Dunckley gave a statement at a police station in nearby Orange as his wife received six stitches in hospital.

The handbag contained passports, credit cards and 200 euros of the family's holiday money.

Mrs Dunckley said: 'We were all exhausted but we carried on with our holiday.

'We put the spare wheel on and spent the next three days waiting for a replacement windscreen and wheel.

'Dutch and German holidaymakers at the campsite said they had been warned by their holiday companies at home that there have been several robberies of tourists on roads recently.

'If you are tired and driving through France and you need to stop - just don't bother. It's not safe.'

A Foreign Office spokesman said the Cote d'Azur stretch between Marseille and Menton on the Italian border is notorious for thefts and robberies.

'We advise people to keep cars locked when driving. It is common for bags to be snatched from passenger seats by passing thieves on motorbikes.

'There have also been a number of muggings at roadside areas where people have been sleeping in their cars.

'We advise people to avoid parking in roadside areas and to fit alarms.

'People in cars with foreign number plates are most likely to be targeted, given that it is a clear indication they are not likely to be familiar with their surroundings.'

A spokesman for the French national road safety group Prevention Routiere said: ' Roadside muggings are thankfully uncommon in France for most of the year, although there is a noticeable rise during the tourist season when holidaymakers are seen as easy pickings by attackers.

'The highest risk areas are on the main motorways from Paris to the south of France.

'By sleeping in your car at motorway service stations,

you make yourself an obvious target and this is clearly unadvisable, especially with children.

'Taking simple precautionary steps like sleeping in a hotel and not leaving valuables in the car is the best way to travel safely.'

The Foreign Office has updated its travel guidelines.

Safety tips for travelling in the South of France are available on its website at or by phoning the department hotline on 0870 6060290.

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