Cop26: Rude awakening as Tamils tracked foe to Dunblane
Sri Lankan president was not the only world leader holed up in the sleepy town’s hydro
Under the cover of darkness Tamil activists marched on the DoubleTree Hilton where Gotabaya Rajapaksa, president, was staying
Friday November 05 2021, 12.01am, The Times
On February 5, 1746, a maidservant launched an audacious attempt to assassinate the Duke of Cumberland as he thundered through the streets of Dunblane. She tipped a bucket of boiling oil from an upper window as he rode northwards in vengeful pursuit of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army.
This week Sir Andy Murray’s hometown witnessed an even more unlikely attempt to ambush a bellicose visitor. In the early hours of Monday, under the cover of darkness, hundreds of Tamil activists marched on the DoubleTree Hilton Hydro hotel.
Their quarry was Lieutenant Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 72, president and commander in chief of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
Police were vague about which VIPs were staying at the DoubleTree Hilton Hydro
PHIL WILKINSON FOR THE TIMES
A dearth of accommodation in Glasgow had meant that Rajapaksa, dubbed “The Terminator” for his apparent ability to make opponents vanish, had decamped to this sleepy commuter town, population 10,000, before Cop26.
There were claims that he had been joined by leaders from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, prompting excitable, but as yet unsubstantiated, suggestions that Zimbabwe’s strongman President Mnangagwa, known as the Crocodile, had been holding court in the hotel’s cocktail bar.
“The presidents of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ukraine were all there at the hotel,” said Vinthan, a lawyer and one of about a thousand UK-based members of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority who had travelled north in a cavalcade of coaches, cars and mini buses. “However, we made it clear we were only after one person.”
Rajapaksa has been accused of authorising torture and rape and orchestrating “death squads” that targeted Tamil separatists, journalists and his political opponents — charges he strenuously denies.
The demonstrators roared and waved tiger-festooned banners when the president finally sped by, under police protection, on his way to be greeted by Boris Johnson.
“We quite literally gave him a rude awakening,” enthused Amuthan, a softly spoken London-based scientist. “He will be incensed as this is something he would not even dream of encountering in Sri Lanka. If we had been protesting like this over there we would either be dead right now or ‘disappeared’ into police custody.” Both men said that relatives in Sri Lanka would be in grave danger if their full names were used.
A few streets away a van displaying a glowing digital sign trundled past the town’s ancient cathedral. “War criminals are not welcomed in Scotland; a land of freedom, justice and equality,” it stated.
Alec and Eileen Sinclair had no idea that world leaders were coming to Dunblane
PHIL WILKINSON FOR THE TIMES
Alec Sinclair, a retired pensions specialist and member of the hotel’s health club, was dumbfounded to be confronted by a phalanx of officers when he went for his daily dip. “We had no idea that any world leaders were coming to Dunblane,” he said. “It was a very strange sight in such a small town but, for me, it was brilliant. I had the place to myself.”
His wife, Eileen, added: “It’s the African leaders I feel for. They will be feeling the chill this morning.”
Convoys of Range Rovers, their passengers concealed behind darkened glass, streamed out from the four-star hotel where rooms can usually be secured for a decidedly modest £85 a night. The hotel’s “King Superior” suites are about double that, but the price includes complimentary slippers and a bottle of house wine.
The departures were watched carefully by officers sent up from Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, who politely feigned ignorance when asked which leaders they had been called upon to protect. They were accompanied by attentive men in sharp suits who declined to identify themselves.
Inside, VIPs were being offered Simia Sours “inspired by the tropical rainforests and exotic wildlife of our Earth”, Gold Post Boxes, an alcoholic homage to Murray and his Olympic success, and a cocktail called Dark and Stormy, which could serve as a forecast of the future if the summit founders.
Across the road Mary, “just Mary dear”, a spirited older resident, confessed that she had considered making a citizens’ arrest. However, it was officers, not demagogues or demonstrators, who had fuelled her ire by failing to show sufficient respect to the neighbourhood’s one-way system.
“I felt like marching out and saying, ‘Excuse me, you are contravening the Road Traffic Act, give me your name and address’,” she said.
Cosy in her quilted jacket, she voiced sympathy for the demonstrators in Dunblane and those in Glasgow calling for radical change. “Oh, the protesters here were very polite, well mannered and peaceful,” she purred. “The Queen was very good, and little Greta too. She’s right, there has been far too much ‘blah, blah, blah’.”
She sucked on her teeth when asked where world leaders might go to unwind. “Oh, that’s a no-no dear,” she stated apologetically. “Dunblane is a lovely place to live but it’s very quiet at night time.”
However, Tricia Smith, the owner of the Beech Tree café, a favourite with Dunblane’s favourite son, felt that the town, 30 miles north of Glasgow, had grown a bit too lively of late. The demonstrations meant we got held up on the school run,” she lamented. “That was for the Sri Lankan leader, but we were told that the Saudis had arrived last week.”
Alastair Majury, a Conservative councillor, insisted that Dunblane’s geopolitical mix could have got even more interesting. “The Russians expressed an interest in another hotel in the area,” he whispered before doggedly refusing, like Stirlingshire’s answer to 007, to divulge any more.
Alastair Majury had heard that the Russian delegation was interested in staying near by
PHIL WILKINSON FOR THE TIMES
In Glasgow Amuthan was mulling over his fleeting encounter with a leader who, like Cumberland before him, stands accused of having blood on his hands.
“The people of Dunblane were lovely, although we probably inconvenienced the other heads of state who were staying there,” he said, permitting himself a wry smile. “I think they will look very carefully at who they are sharing a hotel with in future.”