No plans for Garda liaison to Colombia in case of missing Wexford man

Fears James Hillis (40) may have been kidnapped in South American country

 

The Garda has no plans to send a liaison officer to Colombia to assist in the case of a Wexford father of three reported missing and possibly kidnapped in the South American country.

Confusion continues to surround the case of James Hillis (40) three months after he travelled to Colombia from Tenerife in Spain. His family in Wexford have not heard from him since and Colombian police have concerns about his safety.

It is understood Mr Hillis was living in Spain and travelled to South America after meeting a Colombian person in Tenerife. The missing man’s wife and three children are now back in Ireland.

Gardaí were initially sceptical of reports Mr Hillis was kidnapped in the South American country. Sources say some of that scepticism remains but that concern is growing that Mr Hillis may have come to some harm.

Nevertheless there are no plans “for now” to send a Garda liaison to Colombia as often happens with missing persons cases abroad.

The Garda is liaising with Colombian police to establish if a photo of a man matching Mr Hillis’s description, with a gun to his head, is genuine. The man in the photo is kneeling between two men dressed in army fatigues. He appears to be bleeding from a head wound and his wrists are bound with tape.

The photograph was reportedly sent to associates of Mr Hillis in Ireland along with a ransom demand. However, Mr Hillis’s father angrily rejected reports his family had received a ransom demand.

Ransom demand

“I have never received a call from Colombia,” James Hillis senior told the Wexford People. “I would hate people to think I was asked for a ransom and I didn’t pay it.”

The first time the Hillis family saw the photo was when it was published in a Sunday newspaper a week ago.

It is understood Mr Hillis’s father believes the man in the photo resembles his son, despite his face being blurred out.

A Garda spokesman directed queries on the case to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

A Foreign Affairs spokesman said it is offering consular assistance to the family but that it could not comment on individual cases.

Mr Hillis of Barntown in Wexford worked as a Christmas tree seller while in Ireland. He has several previous convictions for theft but is not believed to be involved in major criminality.

In 2016 was give an 18 month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to 10 counts of theft totalling €44,000. All the money was later repaid to the victims.

Mr Hillis’s family first became aware he was missing in mid-November after being informed by local gardaí. Police in Colombia had contacted the Garda through Interpol to say Mr Hillis had been reported missing and that they had concerns for his welfare.

The Garda is in regular contact with the family but so far they have had little information to report, sources say. The Department of Foreign Affairs is also liaising with the Colombian embassy in Dublin and the Irish embassy in Bogota.

Kidnapping and extortion continues to be a major problem in Colombia despite the ending of the civil war there in 2016. In 2018 there were 174 reported kidnappings.