It seems like only yesterday that the vending industry said ‘thanks and goodbye’ to Tony Smith by celebrating the achievements of a man we referred to as ‘one of vending’s best-known faces’.
I confess to feeling pangs of jealousy as I wrote the story 7 months ago. Here was a fella who’s lovely wife Carole was also about to retire. They seemed like the couple who had the world at their command: they were fit, healthy and raring to go. You may have thought, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’
And that’s when Tony Smith’s Mexican nightmare began. Upon arrival in Cancun, ready for the holiday of a lifetime, Tony was mistaken for an international criminal. Thanks to a shared name and birth date, alarm bells rang when he presented his passport and instead of a luxurious room with a view of the sea, he found himself in a dark and dingy cell, deep in the bowels of the airport. He was there for three days.
‘After much deliberating over whether or not I was a criminal, I was completely shocked when 24 hours after we landed I was actually detained and separated from my wife’ Tony told the Mail Online. ‘Being detained in a cell for something that you haven’t done is definitely quite disorientating. They showed me to a dingy cold, 10ft by 10ft windowless cell with two thin mattresses on the floor and those flimsy aeroplane blankets. Carole was escorted off to the hotel on her own, which she found frightening because she was in a new country and all by herself.
‘This whole experience has seriously affected her as well. She’s too frightened to go abroad now which is what we both love to do normally.’
Tony called the British Embassy for help, but they said they couldn’t do anything about his situation unless he was officially arrested , even though he was constantly supervised by a security guard, even when he went to the toilet.
‘I know there were suspicions I was a criminal, but I was treated like I was a serial killer’, Tony told The Mail. ‘The toilets were in a terrible state. The urinal was broken but because of the stress, I had a serious bout of IBS and really had no choice. There was a shower but it was also a store cupboard with broomsticks in it, and there were no towels. Luckily I still had my phone, so I was able to contact Carole and she brought me some clean clothes to change into.’
After three days during which he got little information about why he was being held, Anthony was allowed to fly home on the next British Airways flight out of Cancun. His unusual middle name – Inglis – finally convinced the Mexican authorities they had the wrong Anthony Smith.
‘I contacted the American Embassy to ask why he was ‘flagged up’ at the airport but as yet I’ve had no reply’ Tony said. ‘When it was time to get back on the flight, I was escorted by four people including a national security officer. I was tempted to turn to them and say, ‘I am 65, do you really think I am going to run?’. It was by far the most embarrassing walk of shame ever. All the passengers could see me.
‘When we returned the immigration lady at Gatwick said ‘nice holiday?’. They hadn’t even been informed about what just happened ‘Apparently there should have been a big red cross on my boarding pass to show that I had been detained, but there wasn’t. ‘I think it’s clear there was a mistake and I am in touch with the American embassy about this. I’ll also be writing to the European Court of Human Rights. Luckily I can see the humour in this but I still want to get to the bottom of it. I’ve lost £3,000 over this, but it’s not about the money, it’s about clearing my name and making sure that I won’t have any further issues when I next go traveling.’
We sure you’ll join with us at PV in urging Tony and Carole to refuse to let this awful experience affect their plans, by getting ‘back in the saddle’ as soon as they can. But, actually, ‘bloody hell’.