British engineer 'in love' with South Africa, hacked to death for his mobile phone
A British engineer who moved to a remote farm in South Africa after “falling in love with the country” has been murdered in his own home by a machete-wielding gang who stole just £210 and a mobile phone.
Dan Newling & Erin Conway-Smith | Daily Telegraph.UK | 9:30PM GMT 26 Nov 2012
Chris Preece, 54, was stabbed to death in his kitchen by thieves at Fleur de Lis farm, near Ficksburg, a town along the South Africa-Lesotho border. Police believe he may have stepped outside to investigate a power cut when he was ambushed by three man and dragged back into the house.
His wife Felicity, 56, was also stabbed and suffered a fractured skull after being beaten with a pole - but managed to survive a 12 hour wait for help by bandaging her own head.
It is thought the thieves may have come from neighbouring Lesotho and fled back across the border after the assault. They stole only a wallet containing 3,000 South African rand (£210) and a mobile telephone.
The murder, on Saturday evening, is the latest in a spate of so-called “farm attacks” in South Africa: brutally violent robberies targeting relatively wealthy white farmers.
Mr Preece, who is originally from Southgate in north London, was attacked at around 7.30pm at his 260 hectare property near Ficksburg, a town that is famous for its annual cherry festival. Police believe he was set upon soon after venturing outside to check on the power.
“As he opened the door, he was attacked,” said his friend and neighbour Gavin Hoole, who was among the first to discover the murder the following day.
“He was stabbed outside and then dragged into the kitchen where they killed him. Then they assaulted Felicity, hitting her around the head with a pole then they left. We think they drugged the dogs with a kind of poison.
“Felicity was not dead, but because the gang had cut the telephone wires and there is no mobile phone reception, she couldn’t get help.
“It was only the next morning, at around 7am when people arrived to start work, that anyone realised something was wrong when they heard her screaming.
“She had been on her own for 12 hours, but she is medically trained and managed to apply a bandage to her own head which stopped the bleeding.”
Mrs Preece is being treated at a hospital in Bloemfontein where she was said to be in a “stable” condition. Her son and two daughters are at her bedside.
“Her children are with her and helping to support her emotionally,” a spokesman said.
Mr Preece’s daughter-in-law Jeanne Preece told how he moved to South Africa in 1995 to work as a geotechnical engineer - and had “fallen in love” with the country .
“He fell in love with South Africa from Day One”, Mrs Preece, who is married to his son, said yesterday. “He used to say that the natural beauty of the country and its people was wonderful.”
After studying at Birmingham University, Mr Preece worked in the UK before moving to South Africa to work for diamond miners De Beers.
Last year he was made Principle Geotechnical Engineer for rival mining firm Snowden. However, according to his family, his true love was for nature.
After working in South Africa’s commercial capital Johannesburg, every weekend Mr Preece would drive for 200 miles to the Fleur de Lis farm where his wife lived.
The couple were both animal lovers. They kept horses and were in the process of transforming the remote farmstead into a nature reserve for cheetahs and birds of prey.
The farm, in South Africa’s Free State province, is in a spectacularly beautiful location. The imposing peaks of Lesotho’s mountains just a few miles away.
The couple had previously advertised a cottage for rent on the property, which was described as 260 hectares of hill farm “situated north of the beautiful Lesotho Maluti Mountains,” where visitors can “experience exhilarating, safe walking”.
According to Jeanne Preece, they were unaware of the worrying spate of farm attacks on smallholdings in the area: Mr Preece’s death was the second farm murder - and fifth robbery - in their area of the Free State province this month.
“They didn’t even seem to view it as a dangerous area. My father in law used to tell me that he knew all his neighbours”, she said. “And anyway, it wasn’t even a robbery. That’s what we can’t understand: they took just a wallet and a cell phone. Who would kill someone for that?
Since South Africa’s first fully democratic elections in 1994, more than 3,000 white, mainly Afrikaans, farmers are thought to have been killed in their homes.
Police spokesman Captain Phumelelo Dhlamini said that three men were suspected of carrying out the attack.
“The suspects came from Lesotho. It’s very, very easy to cross the river,” he said.
» » » » [Telegraph.UK]