26th February 2012
Anybody ever seen the movie father of the bride 2? Well you know at the start and he says “all those who think you have it made, take one step forward, oh wait not you George Banks” well that pretty much describes what happened at that point in our lives when the rug was pulled right out from under us and everything we had worked so hard for would be snatched away in a matter of minutes. Life as we knew it would never be the same again.
I remember the 16th of September, it was a Thursday and I was not working as our first client booked for a 4 day week. I went with my Dad to collect my brother from Naas General Hospital as he was having an operation to remove his wisdom teeth. I had spoken to Mark several times throughout the day, as I normally did as Mark used to have a regular routine of calls when he travelled back to his family. I spoke to Mark in the car on the way back from the hospital about 4pm and he was returning home after his first day of working and going for a shower. I’d expected to hear from him again about 7.30pm and about 10pm before I went to sleep.
That evening I went to my parents house as I was working on paperwork for the business. I was distracted and didn’t realize until I returned home and got into bed at about 9.30pm that I hadn’t heard from Mark. I tried calling his phone a few times over the space of an hour and when his phone continued to ring out I began to get worried. I decided to call his older brother Martin. Martin was in work and answered his phone. When I explained why I was worried he began to joke saying “not to worry, Mark only had eyes for his wife!!” to which I responded I wasn’t worried about other women but that anytime I couldn’t reach Mark my initial fear is from the Police. Unfortunately my first hand experience of living in Crete had left me with unnerving trust issues with the authorities in Crete and I was all too aware of the fact that young male Albanians were easy targets for stop and search or sweep tactics. Martin reassured me that everything was fine and that the sound on Mark’s phone had been playing up and he would call one of the other lads to get him to call me. After speaking with Martin I began to relax and fell to sleep. Little did I know at this point that my gut instinct was right but I could have never in my wildest dreams imagined what was happening at that moment in time or what was about to happen to the lives of everybody we loved. I still get a sick knot in my stomach and the shakes when I think back to that first call from Martin at 3am.
I was alone in our home, in bed when my mobile rang. It was Martin and he told me that Mark and Andreas and 3 other Albanian boys were arrested. Initially I presumed it was in Hersonisos and the likelihood was it was to check their visa papers. However Martin proceeded to tell me the boys were in Heraklion Police Station and immediately alarm bells rang in my head. He told me that he had spent the past 4 hours there, he was home now for a few hours sleep and he and his elder brother would be going back in the morning with the lawyer. At this stage I was hysterical, shouting at Martin demanding he tell me why they had been arrested however Martin didn’t have any details. He said it was something to do with a stolen car and he would have more information in a few hours after the lawyer visited. He told me to try stay calm and everything would be fine and he’d call later.
When I hung up the phone I was numb. I was angry at myself thinking I had caused this by worrying that this is why he didn’t call, I was angry at the Police. I was well aware that the boys only had to breath to be picked up off the street. I was angry at the public racism in Crete, I was angry at the media that had slagged off an entire nation for the three years while I lived there, I was angry at the people who treated me and my husband as lesser being because of the side of the border my husband was born on… I was furious, terrified, sick, shaking and ALONE.
At that point I called my Dad, my mum was on a holiday with her sister in Turkey at the time, and told him what had just happened. I asked could he get me the number for both the Hersonisos and Heraklion police station as I didn’t have internet access. Once I got off the phone I called Heraklion but to no avail so I called Hersonisos and a very nice man answered. I explained I was calling from Ireland and what had just happened. He told me there hadn’t been an arrest in Hersonisos and gave me a direct line for the office in Heraklion. He also tried to reassure me that most of the time Albanian men are picked up for papers and that this was probably the same. I informed him I had lived in Crete for 3 years and was aware of how the system worked but that they were never usually brought to Heraklion as Mark and Andreas had all their visa stamps and permission to be in Crete in order. I then called the number he gave me for Heraklion and it was answered by an obnoxious man who when he realized I didn’t speak Greek hung up the phone on me. I called back again and in my broken Greek asked to speak with someone who could speak English. Another officer came on the line and I explained I was calling from Ireland and I was Mark Marku’s wife. I asked why he was arrested and I was told “robberies”. No other information when, what, who…. nothing. I asked could I speak to him and I was told it was not possible. I asked when it would be possible and I received the same reply and the dial tone as he hung up the phone.
Hanging up the phone I broke down in tears in the middle of my double bed. Eventually I got up, threw on a jumper and Uggs and got in my car and drove to my parents house. When I got there I rang the police station again and was told the same thing. For the next 5 hours I sat on the sofa under a blanket pressing redial to call Mark’s phone which would ring out every time. I don’t know what I was expecting. At 9am I rang Martin who said he was at the police station with the lawyer, he said Mark asked if I would call the embassy as Mark claimed he had been beaten and electrocuted with tazors and he would call back later. I tried the police station but they refused to let me talk to him. At this stage I was hysterical again. I called the Irish consulate in Crete who said they could do nothing as Mark traveled on an Albanian passport. I explained, I as an Irish citizen was asking for their help, I wanted them to go check my husband was alive and okay as I had not spoken to him in nearly 20 hours. I was told they couldn’t help me because I wasn’t on the island to which I responded was the very reason I needed there help. When I told the woman that my husband claimed to have been beaten and tazored she responded by stating she didn’t believe that had happened.
I then rang the Irish Embassy in Athens to which I received pretty much the same response except the woman here offered to ring the police in Heraklion and ask the police to get Mark to call me as a courtesy! This was approximately 10am. I received a call from Mark about 5pm only after I called a Greek colleague of Mark’s, who he had worked with while we lived in Crete, and asked if he had any contacts in the police station and could he help Mark call me. Five minutes after I made this call Mark was allowed to call me.
When I answered that call my heart smashed into a million pieces. Mark was in tears at the end of the phone, all I could hear was sheer terror in his voice. He tried to explain bits about what had happened but nothing made sense. He said he had been beaten for 7 hours during the night and he had not seen a lawyer yet. He also told me he had signed something but didn’t know what it was. When I asked why he signed it he said because I they beat him with a book across his head when he refused to sign it and was afraid they would kill him if he didn’t sign. He also told me they had now arrested Martin, his older brother, and this is why I could not contact him all day. After about 2 minutes I could hear roaring and shouting in the background and Mark said he had to get off the phone, he told me he loved me and hung up the phone.
When that call ended I went and sat with Sam, my younger brother and completely broke down. The devastating reality was beginning to hit home that this nightmare was actually happening. I called my Dad in work and told him I had to book a ticket to Crete. We organised a flight for the next day. My older brother Peter flew to Birmingham the next day where he met my mother and they both flew to Crete the following day.
After the tickets were booked I called the police station again to try speak with Mark to get him to organize his older brother Victor to collect me as I didn’t have anybody else’s number. When I called the officer on the phone was frustrated I didn’t speak Greek and kept shouting at me and hanging the phone up. This continued for over an hour. Mark later told me he knew I was calling because he could hear the officer shouting at me and understood what he was saying. Eventually I was put through to an English speaking officer. When I explained who I wanted to speak to and that I needed him to contact his family there to organize I was collected he responded by asking why I was flying over. He then proceeded to laugh and said “do you think you are gonna come here and take your husband home with you? ha you’ll never see him again hahaha!” I became irate with him repeating I needed to speak with Mark as I had no other contact in Crete to collect me to which he responded get a taxi and hung up the phone. I then called the restaurant where Mark had worked and asked my friend there to try contact Victor and give him my number and explained I would arrive in Crete at midnight the next day. About 1 hour later Mark did call me again and confirmed Victor had got the message.
The rest of that evening, my sister, my two younger brothers, my Dad and myself spent hours researching and ringing every NGO and government body we could find to look for help and advice.
I left Ireland on the 18th September 2010 at approx 11am.
I’m gona stop there and carry on a bit later because I have an unbearable pain in my neck and a face as red as a rooster after reliving all of that again while writing here. I swear my whole body goes into panic mode as flashes of those phone calls to both Mark and the police that Friday are replayed in my head and the emotion and terror comes racing back. So I will continue a bit later on. I think maybe a shower is needed to try and chill out. Chat soon xx chow x