By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Shanti Simone Andrews and Rebecca Claire Turner were finally granted bail last week in Rio after their lawyer Renato Tonini appealed against the court’s initial refusal on grounds of the women being foreigners.
Tonini has since revealed that they will plead guilty at trial later this month in a bid to avoid the maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.
In a misguided attempt to allegedly defraud their insurance company over the theft of items totaling more than £1,000 on a bus trip from Iguaçu Falls back to Rio, the pair’s report to police was called into question when some of the items were later discovered in their hostel bedroom. They were arrested on July 26 and spent several days in the notorious women’s prison complex in Bangu on the outskirts of Rio having been denied bail.
The 23 year-old women maintained their version of events, suggesting they had been confused over exactly what had been stolen. As a result, they claimed, some of the items reported missing were later discovered in their locker at the Stone of a Beach hostel in Copacabana.
After several days in a cramped prison cell, they were understandably relieved at being granted bail. According to Tonini at the end of next week the two will enter guilty pleas in order to avoid a return to prison.
The Rio Tourist Police were keen to investigate the claim further because of the delay between the alleged robbery and the report filed by the two women. It is also an indication of the regularity of such reports and the current crackdown on foreigners defrauding the system in a city fighting its poor reputation for petty crime.
The filing of false insurance claims for stolen items has become a much-flaunted method for funding trips among backpackers and particularly so in Rio. It is now commonplace to travel with expensive items such as MP3 players, digital cameras and mobile phones, the value of which can often be equivalent to a flight home.
A recent report by English newspaper The Times suggests that up to fifteen percent of British travelers have falsified insurance claims, as well as noting that overseas police forces are running out of patience with ‘imaginary’ robberies that clog them up with paperwork as well as harming their overall crime statistics.
There has been little sympathy towards the pair from the press in the UK, widely branding them as silly and naïve. The women have been interestingly condemned by many commentators even before their trial, to take place on August 17.
The exception to the British media’s criticism has been the left-wing newspaper The Guardian. The publication has instead focused on the conditions of the Brazilian prison where the girls were held. In addition, outside of their home country’s media, and especially in Australia, the depravity of the women’s detainment has been noted.
A verdict is expected within five days.