Women held over fake birthday kidnap
Two British women have been arrested in Portugal after being bundled into a van in a fake kidnapping that was allegedly planned to spice up their 40th birthday celebrations.
The apparent abduction in a Lisbon Square sparked a string of 999 calls from the public as police raced into action, sending several emergency response vehicles to chase the vehicle.
Terrified callers said they had seen masked men forcing two women into a white van before speeding off, in a scene that could have come from the Hollywood film The Game starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.
When police stopped the vehicle they discovered the pair were part of an elaborate kidnap attempt taking place on holiday with their friends.
Officers said the two Britons claimed they knew nothing about the stunt and told them it was organised by some of the nine friends they travelled to Portugal with to celebrate turning 40.
The kidnap took place on Sunday at Restauradores Square in Lisbon city centre.
A spokesman for Lisbon's PSP police force, which made the arrests, said in a statement: "Two English women decided to organise a holiday to Lisbon with nine female friends to celebrate their 40th birthdays.
"They contacted a Portuguese events organiser to hire their services. It was agreed that the firm would arrange for a fake kidnap to be staged in a public street.
"Around 3.30pm on Sunday, a white van stopped by Restauradores Square and two men, one of whom was wearing a mask, got out and grabbed the two tourists and forced them into the vehicle.
"A third man at the wheel of the van then sped off. The fake kidnap was backed by the firm's owner who filmed the whole thing.
"The incident provoked social alarm and terrified several passers-by at the scene."
The pair were arrested along with four Portuguese nationals - the female owner of the unnamed company which organised the fake abduction and three men. None of the six detainees have been named but are aged between 27 and 40.
The two British women have since been freed without charge after they appeared at a private court hearing in the capital on suspicion of criminal simulation, a crime which carries a maximum one-year prison sentence.
A spokesman for the court said: "No action will be taken against any of the participants. We understand they were playing a game. The case has been archived."