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Tighten up hostel rules warn MPs

Opposition MPs have urged Government action to protect school parties abroad after the revelation that at least three British children were attacked in youth hostels in Brittany before the murder of 13-year-old Caroline Dickinson in July.

Devon and Cornwall police have confirmed that an 11-year-old from Padstow County Primary school awoke to find a strange man in her bedroom in another hostel 30 minutes' drive from Pleine Foug res, where Caroline was murdered on July 18. The French police are investigating this incident, as well as another attack on a secondary school pupil from the Isle of Wight.

The news follows the earlier disclosure that a girl from Salford, Greater Manchester, was attacked in a Brittany hostel by a man who tried to suffocate her, just hours before Caroline was raped and suffocated in the bedroom she was sharing with four other girls. The Salford girl was saved only when fellow pupils in the room woke up.

The child from Padstow was unharmed, and teachers at the hostel called the police, who failed to catch the intruder. West Country police and Cornwall council say the incident happened in mid-June, but because it was regarded as an attempted theft, the local authority was not informed until after the murder of Caroline a month later.

Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cornwall North, which includes Launceston, where Caroline Dickinson lived, and David Jamieson, Labour MP for Plymouth Devonport, have both written to Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, pointing out that many youth hostels in France are not governed by standard safety regulations.

Mr Tyler says that he was advised by the Foreign Office and the UK Youth Hostels Association that common practices here are not universally applied, such as locking external doors at night, with emergency opening facilities operated from the inside only. The hostel used by Caroline Dickinson's party did not belong to the International Federation of Youth Hostels.

"It's amazing that when everything else is being rigorously standardised by the EU . . . that there is such a lack of standard arrangements in this area which, sadly, has already been a matter of life and death," he said.

He also suggested that the Government could provide schools and local authorities with a list of hostels in Europe that did belong to the international federation. At present, the onus is on parents and teachers to check. Many, he said, assumed that foreign hostels had the same rigorous standards as British ones.

David Jamieson said that he had received a reply from Lord Henley in response to his letter addressed to Gillian Shephard. The letter says that "we are reviewing our advice in the light of the recent events in France with a view to drawing up new guidance for schools". Mr Jamieson said that he had been hoping for something more definite.

"French parents do not send their children to these places because it is well-known that they are used by vagrants and drifters. They are not like the British hostels where there is always a warden on duty."

* In 1986, the bodies of Norfolk teachers Lorraine Glasby and Paul Bellion were found bound and shot in a field 20 miles from St Malo.

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