Veyrac
© SplashNews.com
13 people went on trial on Monday in Nice for the botched kidnapping of hotel heiress Jacqueline Veyrac
It is a case that reads like a botched revenge plot from an airport thriller.

A British ex-soldier, a paparazzo-turned private detective nicknamed Tintin and the ex-manager of a Michelin-starred Nice restaurant went on trial on Monday accused of kidnapping a millionaire hotel heiress on the French Riviera.

However, the plan by the motley crew of "clueless" characters swiftly went awry, it is alleged, notably after they had to change getaway driver when the initial candidate lost a limb and GPS trackers used to follow the heiress in fact led police to a prime suspect.

Dutton
© Telegraph
British ex-soldier Philip Dutton, 52, went on trial on Monday for his alleged involvement in a botched kidnap attempt of a Riviera hotel heiress
The Nice criminal court heard how Jacqueline Veyrac, the 80-year-old owner of the five-star Grand Hotel in Cannes and the select seafront La Reserve restaurant in nearby Nice, was seized on the street in 24, 2016 and bundled into the back of a getaway vehicle.

Despite putting up stiff resistance, the feisty widow was held bound and gagged for two days in a Renault Kangoo, which was parked on a quiet street on the outskirts of the Riviera city.

After refusing to swallow a sedative, she was finally freed by a passerby who heard her muffled cries. He first became suspicious after noticing that the car's original number plates were concealed. Police later picked up three other individuals when they returned to check up on the car.

The main suspect in the trial of 13 suspects is Giuseppe Serena, the Italian former manager of La Reserve whose contract was terminated by Mrs Veyrac in 2009 for alleged mismanagement.

Mr Serena, 76, is accused of ordering her abduction in a desperate last-minute bid to obtain a €5 million ransom with which he hoped to open a new, rival restaurant. The deadline to hand over a first downpayment was the day after Mrs Veyrac vanished.
Veyrac
© VALERY HACHE/ AFP
British ex-soldier Philip Dutton is among 13 on trial in Nice for a botched kidnap bid on hotel heiress Jacqueline Veyrac
His suspected accomplices have designated the bankrupt Italian, who is also accused of an earlier botched kidnap attempt on Mrs Veyrac in 2013, as the mastermind of the operation.

Mr Serena, who has been in pre-trial custody for over four years, denies the charges of complicity in kidnapping and attempted organised extortion.

Central to the case is British ex-soldier Philip Dutton, 52, whose English accent was picked up during a call to Mrs Veyrac's son in which he said: "You'll have to pay."

On Monday, he presented himself as a "builder" and asked for an interpreter.

Mr Dutton, who is also accused of the 2013 kidnap plot, intended to keep 10 per cent of the ransom with half earmarked for Mr Serena and the rest for other accomplices, say prosecutors.

However, underlining the gang's amateurism, two text messages detailing the ransom sum and exchange point were never sent due to "technical problems".

After he was charged, Mr Dutton's lawyer, Benjamin Charlier, told Nice-Matin his client, who is from Liverpool, had confessed helping organise the kidnap but had not actually taken part in it.

Mr Dutton told his lawyer that he had served in British special forces and that he had been wounded, suffering severe burns, by a mine in Afghanistan in 2011.

He claimed he had three years of treatment for his wounds in various military hospitals and that when he returned to the UK he did not get a military pension. His personal life suffered, he said, after his injuries and his Bulgarian wife had returned to Bulgaria with their daughter.

However, speaking to UK media shortly after his arrest, his uncle, James Daley, who lives near Langton in Lancashire, said: "He has never been in the SAS and as far as I know he has not been to Afghanistan.

"He went into the Army at 18 but to my mind he wasn't grown up enough."

He was doing odd jobs around Nice, including working as a security guard for a private beach club, until he was allegedly hired to be part of the kidnap gang and promised a payout at the end of the operation.

Mr Serena's lawyer claimed his client had been turned into the "ideal scapegoat" and questioned claims by Mr Dutton that he was the mastermind.

On Monday the court heard that back in 2016, two masked men pounced on Mrs Veyrac as she was about to get into her SUV and shoved her into a stolen van driven by an accomplice.

One of the kidnappers threatened to kill her if she made any noise.

The heiress tried to call for help and bang on the doors of the van but only succeed in wriggling free to make contact with a passerby on her second night in captivity.

Among the other defendants are former paparazzi-turned-private-detective Luc Goursolas, aka Tintin, who is accused of fitting tracking devices to Mrs Veyrac's car and failing to remove them. They led police directly to his phone.

Three other suspected gang members from a poor Nice neighbourhood stand accused of carrying out the kidnapping.

A certain Enrico Fontanella, an Italian acquaintance of Mr Serena who reportedly was initially supposed to drive the getaway vehicle but had a leg amputated due to illness, cannot be tried at present due to "massive health issues". His case will be dealt with separately.

Mr Veyrac's late husband developed the Grand Hotel in Cannes, a palatial seafront establishment frequented by the international jet set during the annual Cannes film festival.

Absent on day one of the trial, Mrs Veyrac is due to testify in court on Thursday.

The trial continues.