Northern Ireland caravan couple drugged and robbed at French campsite
A Northern Ireland man who awoke in the night to see a burglar leaning over his wife as she slept - only to discover he was powerless to move - believes they were both drugged, after discovering puncture wounds on their arms.
Ivan (56) and Anne Hill (57) from Newtownards, have been caravanning for nearly 30 years.
They set off on what they hoped would be an idyllic French holiday in a motorhome they purchased two years ago.
But their relaxing getaway quickly turned into a horror movie.
"The fact that I woke up and saw a man standing over my wife and was totally incapable of doing anything about it has upset me greatly - he could have been murdering her and all I could do was close my eyes," Ivan told the Belfast Telegraph.
The assistant hospital catering manager and his wife, a retired nurse, travelled by ferry to Cherbourg and arrived shortly before lunchtime on August 27.
But halfway into an 11 hour drive to their final destination they pulled in at a busy campsite along the A10 motorway near the town of Saint Leger Ouest.
They had planned to be back on the road again by 7.30am, so they went to bed at around 10.30pm.
"We didn't wake-up until nearly 10am and just assumed we'd overslept, but for both us to oversleep is a bit odd in hindsight," Ivan explained.
"But as I drove down the road, I started to remember things."
He recalled a chilling "dream" that he felt was too cruel to share with his wife, who suffers from anxiety.
"When I say I woke up, I mean my eyes half-opened and then closed very heavily," he explained.
"But I saw someone in the room and they were leaning over Anne just inches away from where I was sleeping opposite her - but I dismissed it as a weird dream."
As the grandparents, who celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary while holidaying, continued driving toward Saint Girons, Ivan kept uncovering frightening jigsaw pieces that helped to explain what he had seen the night before.
"I asked Anne to reach the money out, but when she opened up the wallet all the cash was gone - it was over €1,000," he said.
The panic-stricken driver pulled over immediately and reluctantly told his wife what he remembered from the night before.
"I didn't want to scare her, but I had to tell her," he said.
In a state of fear they phoned the police but were advised to make a report in person, so they waited until they arrived at their campsite before attending a local police station.
"They just took a statement and gave us a reference number - it feels like they just thought we wanted a report for insurance purposes," Ivan said.
"If this happened at home police would come out and take fingerprints and you would get updates, but we don't even know if there is an investigation.
"That's why we are struggling to find closure and accept that this really happened."
The couple were familiar with stories about people being gassed and robbed - but had always dismissed them as urban legends.
But then, in another spine-tingling twist, the horrified travellers noticed identical bruises on their arms.
Former Belfast City Hospital nurse Anne suspects the marks were caused by puncture wounds.
"I ran it by a friend who is also a nurse and she agreed," she explained.
"It was really worrying, because there's no way whoever did this was worried about sterilising a needle and we can only assume it was a druggie looking for easy money."
The shocking discovery brought fresh fears and forced the couple to go for blood tests when they returned home.
Relieved Ivan, whose doctor confirmed his bruise was consistent with a needle wound, received the all-clear when the results of a preliminary blood test came back last Friday.
Following a nerve-racking wait, Anne only found out yesterday morning that her results were clear, but they will both have to be tested again as antibodies associated with HIV can take up to three months before they become detectable.
Anne, who is on daily medication after suffering a heart attack in 2008, has been repeatedly replaying the sequence of events in her mind and said the intruder could have killed her.
"Whatever they injected into me could have reacted with my medication, and how do they know what dosage to use?" she said.
"I kept thinking we would find the money, I still hope I come across it, because that would mean this never happened."
Ivan, who is also struggling to accept what happened, said he has been torturing himself with questions since the burglary.
"Why did I let my eyes close?
"How could I go back to sleep?
"Why did I not wake up before he came in?" he asked.
"But the injection wounds have made sense of everything."