What is the truth about the public schoolboy ‘kidnapped and tortured’ by a gang in Italy? Photo reveals moment police found Brit chained to a ladder – but Mail investigation raises tantalising questions about mystery crime
- Sam Demilecamps, 25, says he was held captive by an Italian gang for £6,000
- ‘I owe money to very dangerous people,’ texted the former public schoolboy
- A lawyer for one of the alleged kidnappers claims the group were friends of Mr Demilecamps
- Phone footage shows Mr Demilecamps diving off a rock near the group
Shackled, shellshocked and with one arm chained to a step-ladder in a sparse, darkened room, this is ‘kidnapped’ British former public schoolboy Sam Demilecamps moments after he was found by Italian police.
Clutched in his free hand is a mobile phone the carabinieri gave him so he could let his family know he was safe.
The police photograph, obtained exclusively by the Mail, was taken inside the first-floor flat in Monte San Giusto, central Italy, where Mr Demilecamps, 25, said he had been held captive for eight days by a gang who, he claimed, beat and tortured him, and fed him ‘leftovers like a dog’.
Sam Demilecamps, 25, said he was held captive for eight days in Monte San Giusto, central Italy, by a gang who, he claimed, beat and tortured him, and fed him ‘leftovers like a dog’
His alleged ordeal came to light when he sent a desperate text message to his father, who alerted the authorities.
‘I owe money to very dangerous people,’ the message said. ‘This is matter of life and death — if I don’t get 7,000 euros (£6,000) I’m dead tomorrow.’
Friends received equally desperate messages and also raised the alarm. Italian law enforcement, working in conjunction with the National Crime Agency (NCA), traced the phone signal to the flat in Monte San Giusto.
On October 13, within 36 hours of being contacted by Mr Demilecamps’s family and friends, a team from the carabinieri’s special operations division had raided it.
Three young men and a woman have appeared in court on charges of ‘kidnapping for the purpose of extortion’.
A statement by Mr Demilecamps, who was educated at £36,000-a-year Hampshire boarding school Lord Wandsworth College, was submitted to the judge.
Sam Demilecamps when police broke-in to the apartment. Mr Demilecamps, 25, was found malnourished and chained to a radiator after he phoned his estranged father saying he needed £6,000
Mr Demilecamps told how he was abducted from a park in Florence, where he had been staying in a hostel, bundled into a vehicle and driven more than 200 miles south to Monte San Giusto.
‘My captors had seen me spending lavishly,’ he said. ‘They kicked and punched me, used a taser and pepper spray, then dragged me into a car and gave me tranquillisers. They drove me to Monte San Giusto. I was held underwater in a bath and beaten.’
This certainly sounds a terrifying ordeal. But now, with Sam Demilecamps returned to safety and his captors under house arrest and awaiting their day in court, troubling questions are beginning to emerge that cast doubt on Sam’s version of events.
It has left onlookers asking: was he really subjected to kidnap and torture? Or, as his ‘captors’ claim, could he have exaggerated the ‘kidnap’ plot in order to extort money from his wealthy parents.
During extensive inquiries by the Mail in Britain and Italy, we have investigated the varying accounts.
And what we have learned has left even some members of Sam Demilecamps’s own family are sceptical about his story.
For, it is claimed, he knew his ‘kidnappers’. More than that, according to their lawyer, they were friends. He also owed them money, it appears — money he couldn’t repay, despite his privileged upbringing.
Sam Demilechamps mother Jally McCall and her husband Derek, the managing director of a biotechnology company, live in a £2.5 million home in Hampshire
These facts cast a very different complexion on the ‘kidnap’ plot that made headlines here and in Italy. Sam Demilecamps — whose parents divorced when he was young and have now remarried — is certainly from well-to-do background.
His mother and stepfather, the managing director of a biotechnology company, live in a £2.5 million home in Hampshire. His father is a former investment banker who used to work in England but now lives in Brussels.
So one of the questions the Italian police asked at the very beginning was this: why, considering the ‘victim’s’ background, was the ransom demand so low?
Mr Demilecamps had been in Italy since June, visiting Naples, Sorrento, Bologna and Florence, before arriving on the Adriatic coast in July, where he is said to have met the four: Rubens Beliga Gnaga, 18, Ahmed Rajraji, 21, Dona Conte, 22, and his girlfriend, Aurora Carpani, 20.
Given their ages — Gnaga is still a teenager — they don’t fit the stereotype of ruthless Mafioso-type kidnappers.
A video filmed by Rajraji on his mobile phone — unearthed during our research, and showing Mr Demilecamps diving off rocks into a river near the rest of the group — would seem to confirm that they all knew each other.
Aurora Carpani, 20, is one of the group of four arrested over the kidnapping of the Briton
‘You see, you can swim,’ Rajraji can be heard telling Mr Demilecamps.
Lawyers for the defendants, who are all unemployed and live between Monte San Giusto and the nearby town of Montegraro, have similar videos and photographs.
‘We have many photographs and videos shot by our clients showing them being friendly with Sam, going out together, at the beach, swimming,’ attorney Vando Scheggia — who is representing Rajraji — said this week.
‘They regularly hung out during the summer.’
Nor is it ‘clear’, he pointed out, when the scratches and bruises on Mr Demilecamps — highlighted in another police photograph — were inflicted.
Speaking on behalf of the legal team, Mr Scheggia questioned the motive for the alleged kidnap: that Mr Demilecamps became a target after splashing money around.
‘Sam bragged about his family’s wealth with the people he met in Italy, but he slept in hostels and travelled by bus,’ said Mr Scheggia.
‘He was penniless. He didn’t have any money with him and his credit card either didn’t work or was blocked.’
Last year, he offered his Harley-Davidson motorbike for sale online for £6,000 — a similar sum to the ‘ransom’.
‘I’m only selling it because I need the money,’ he wrote. Before embarking on his travels abroad, Mr Demilecamps worked as a chef in Brighton, where he is known to have borrowed money from at least one friend.
It’s a habit that continued in Italy and eventually culminated, according to Mr Scheggia, in the international drama which unfolded in Monte San Giusto earlier this month when the carabinieri, working with the NCA’s Anti Kidnap and Extortion Unit, surrounded the flat where Mr Demilecamps said he was being held hostage.
The apartment was hardly an obvious place to hold a kidnap victim. Gnaga’s father, a truck driver, lived there, but allowed his son and his friends to use it when he was away.
‘He [Mr Demilecamps] was in the flat voluntarily,’ Mr Scheggia insisted.
‘It isn’t true that he was tortured and beaten up there. They had meals together. He [Mr Demilecamps] even cooked for them. He wasn’t given leftovers ‘like a dog’ as he said.’
But he did owe the four money, Mr Scheggia admitted. He said Mr Demilecamps agreed to stay in the flat while he tried to get the cash to repay them; this, essentially, is the substance of Rubens Gnaga’s statement to the court.
Were drugs involved? Mr Scheggia believes there may have been. Mr Demilecamp’s ‘likes’ on Facebook include ‘Stoner Nation’, ‘Ganja [cannabis] Friend’ and ‘Daily Dope.’
Back in Brighton, a neighbour said noisy parties where drug use was believed to be rife were often held in the flat where Mr Demilecamps lived, opposite the White Rabbit pub in the city centre.
At the apartment in Monte San Giusto, meanwhile, Mr Demilecamps began appealing to friends in Sussex to wire him the money he owed, around 7,000 euros (£6,000).
One, who asked not be identified, received a flurry of ‘desperate’ calls and WhatsApp messages over several days.
‘I have known Sam for a few years after meeting him through friends, he said. ‘I’ve lent him money twice before — a few hundred quid — and he paid it back.
‘He called me from Italy and he sounded distressed. He said he was being held against his will, was being controlled and could I help him because he was in terrible danger.
‘I was sceptical. But he had always paid me back, so I said I could give him 300 euros. He said he needed more than that — thousands — but I told him I was not in a position to send him that much.’
The 300 euros were paid into Rubens Gnaga’s account. Would a kidnapper really have given Sam Demilecamps details of his bank account for the ‘ransom’ to be paid into?
The final WhatsApp message sent to him and several others gave Sam’s exact location in Monte San Giusto.
It read: ‘Forward this to the police and my mum, anyone who can help. This is where I am being held hostage. I don’t have much time.’
Wouldn’t kidnappers have taken Sam Demilecamps’s mobile phone from him when they snatched him? The friend said he alerted the police and spoke to officers from the Metropolitan force.
Mr Demilecamps’s stepfather, Derek McCall, 61, and mother Jalaleh, 60, known as Jally, received the same kind of messages, as did his father, Patrick.
Some of the messages showed Mr Demilecamps handcuffed, Mr Scheggia told us, but he said: ‘Sam would have the others handcuff him when he asked for money, so they could see him in that state.’
Was he ever held against his will? Only briefly, at the end, when Mr Demilecamps thought about leaving, without settling his debts, according to Mr Scheggia.
He was then handcuffed to the step-ladder, he said. By then, the police had traced his mobile signal, and the next day he was freed.
So the photograph of a shackled Mr Demilecamps — published for the first time today — is genuine.
Mr Scheggia is adamant, however, that Mr Demilecamps was never tasered, tranquillised or tortured. Nor was he ever abducted from a park in Florence.
Mr Scheggia’s colleague, Marco Fabiani, who was initially part of the defence team, added: ‘The kids just wanted their money back and he was attached to a stepladder which allowed him to move around. He could have screamed. But he didn’t — why?’
The old lady who lives above the apartment certainly didn’t hear anything suspicious.
‘I often bump into Gnaga coming and going,’ she said. ‘He and his friends all seemed nice boys.
‘During the summer they made a lot of noise, music, parties until late and always lots of people chatting and taking pictures on the balcony. But during those days of the ‘kidnap’ it was utter silence.’
Whatever the truth, the four suspects have all paid a heavy price for their involvement with Sam Demilecamps.
They are currently under house arrest, which could continue for up to four months when, by law, it has to be either lifted or extended.
New judges could downgrade the charges. If Mr Demilecamps gave false information to the police, he could also be summoned to stand trial.
If, on the other hand, the charges stand, kidnapping for the purpose of extortion carries a sentence of up to 30 years in jail.
It’s not the first time Mr Demilecamps, who describes himself as an ‘adrenaline junkie’, has made the headlines.
In 2016, he broke a vertebra after leaping 180ft into the sea from a cliff at Taormina in Sicily for a bet. He had to be airlifted to hospital by helicopter.
‘He is either very brave or very stupid or maybe a combination of both, but he was certainly fortunate to survive,’ a police spokesman said then.
He is not remembered fondly by staff at the White Rabbit pub opposite his old flat in Brighton, where he was once barred for ‘obnoxious’ behaviour.
Mr Demilecamps is believed to have returned home to Britain. His stepfather and mother declined to discuss the ‘kidnap’.
But a source close to the family said: ‘It seems the situation is not quite what it appeared . . . we all know about Sam’s cliff jump. That sums up what he’s like. And he spends money he hasn’t got.’
His father, Patrick Demilecamps, said he didn’t ‘have anything to add to what has already become public knowledge’.
According to the family source, after his son was freed, Mr Demilecamps was asked by the police if he could pay for him to be put up at a hotel for a few nights.
When he subsequently spoke to his son and questioned him about what exactly had happened, Sam is understood to have put the phone down.
Having read this article, you may have drawn your own conclusions.
Additional reporting: TIM STEWART
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