Edinburgh-born hotel boss who vanished over 20 years ago after flying to Spain is declared 'dead' by top judge

An Edinburgh-born hotel boss who vanished over 20 years ago after raving to neighbours about his wife being abducted by aliens has been declared dead by a top judge.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 12:30 pm

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Ian Watson, who would now be in his 70s, disappeared after flying to Alicante to view a villa for him and his wife Beryl in October 2000.

The Stockport hotel owner had been due to meet a contact, but despite speaking to his wife on the phone after arriving and dining out locally, was never heard from again.

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Ian Watson. Pic: Interpol

The disappearance led to an extensive cross-border police hunt, involving Interpol and Greater Manchester Police, but no evidence to suggest where he was came to light.

But now, more than two decades after he went missing, a High Court judge has declared Mr Watson dead, despite no body ever being found, allowing his widow to inherit his estate.

The judge said police had unearthed nothing to suggest Mr Watson had simply gone on to live under an assumed name elsewhere, and that he is in fact probably dead.

"I consider that, if he wasn't dead, he would have been in contact with, if not his family, then certainly his friends," said the judge, Master Karen Shuman.

"I also consider significant the fact that he hasn't withdrawn from his bank account or used his credit card. It leads me to accept that he has died."

The court heard the alarm was raised after Mr Watson, who ran a small hotel in Stockport, failed to respond to calls following his arrival in Alicante in October 2000.

A Spanish investigation revealed that he had dined at a restaurant, then taken a taxi, but was not heard from again after asking the driver to let him out, said the Watson family's barrister, Julie Case.

She said there was evidence from several sources that Mr Watson had been in a "confused" state in the two days he was in Spain before disappearing.

He had banged on the door of a neighbouring property close to the villa where he was staying and complained to the occupants that aliens had taken his wife and had moved the stairs of his UK hotel.

He also rang the reception of his hotel and his daughter, appearing to be confused about the whereabouts of Mrs Watson.

"The last time he was seen was about 3.30pm on October 16th when he was seen walking towards his villa with his head in his hands," she told the judge.

Mr Watson failed to keep his appointment to view the villa the following day and despite extensive investigation has not been heard of since.

Although no body was ever found, lawyers for Mrs Watson asked the judge to declare him dead, using a little-used law called the Presumption of Death Act 2013.

Mrs Case argued that the evidence suggested that Mr Watson was in fact dead, having suffered from mental health difficulties in the months before he flew to Spain.

Medical records showed that he had taken an overdose in a suicide attempt earlier in 2000, while he had also suffered with alcohol problems, she said.

A flight attendant on the plane which took him to Alicante said he had appeared in a terrible state, carrying a shopping bag and looking like a "tramp" so that she had told others not to serve him alcohol.

There was also evidence that his hotel was making a loss, that he had applied for a large overdraft in 1998 and had home improvement loans of about £20,000 outstanding.

He had also been charged with drink driving and was due for his first appearance before magistrates only a few days after he disappeared, she said.

Declaring Mr Watson now dead, Master Shuman said: "I am satisfied that he was in a low mood in October 2000. In all probability, he was suicidal.

"His business interests, his hotel in England, may have had financial difficulties. He appears to have had an alcohol problem.

"I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that he is dead."

The decision allows Mr Watson's wife, who is in a care home and cannot manage her own affairs, can inherit his small civil service pension.

"Hopefully, the family can have some closure now," she added.

"It needed to be done.”

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