Gassed and robbed: Another Northern Ireland family tells of France motorhome burglary
A couple who were gassed in their motorhome have described how thieves stood over their naked 11-year-old daughter and stole thousands of pounds worth of jewellery.
Darren Clarke (42) and 37-year-old wife Charlene, from Newtownabbey, were returning from a holiday in Spain with their disabled daughter Dakota when they stopped near the French village of Gouvets on their long drive home.
"I remember hearing a noise when I woke up and looking out the window to my left, but I don't remember a thing after that," Charlene told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It was only later that I realised it was the door closing behind whoever came in.
"It's terrifying to think what might have happened if I had looked right - I would have seen them."
The mother and father, who were travelling without their son, Jake (17), decided to speak out following the story of another couple who were drugged in France, which featured in this newspaper yesterday.
They felt safe in the 'hiving', rest-stop which had restaurants and a large service station, but the busy atmosphere didn't stop thieves targeting them in the early hours of August 22.
"We thought it was odd that we both overslept that morning, but we didn't notice anything suspicious until paying for groceries later that day - over €300 was missing from Darren's wallet," Charlene explained.
An argument followed about the money, but Darren was adamant that it hadn't been spent. They then returned to their motorhome, where Charlene discovered a ring that she had hidden away was sitting on a shelf under the dashboard.
"Darren kept driving and I got up to check a bag that I had buried in a locker above my daughter's bed and I couldn't believe it - five diamond rings, a watch and €1,300 were gone," Charlene explained.
"It took a while for the shock and realisation of what happened to kick in, but when it did it was petrifying."
The stolen items, which included Charlene's engagement ring, were worth £17,000.
The fearful couple went straight to a police station, where an officer pointed out tape marks around the air vent on their van.
"He said we'd been gassed, which was unbelievable but made sense," Darren said.
"I kept saying, 'No, we were in the van and it was a busy park', but he said it happens a lot and it's done by very sophisticated gangs who are also involved in gun-running and people trafficking. That really scared me.
"I don't know how many intruders were in our motorhome, but they would have had to stand on my daughter's bed and really hoke for that bag.
"She sleeps naked because she over-heats and often kicks the duvet off."
Charlene added: "It's terrifying to think what could have happened to her. She's the most precious thing to us."
The couple insisted they would not be deterred from travelling again, but they will be adding security features to their motorhome, including a gas alarm.