LYING almost 200 miles north-west of Scotland, the remote Faroe Islands have not seen a murder for more than 20 years. Then, last year, an islander vanished without a trace.
His disappearance was the start of a saga which gripped the community and shone a spotlight on the tiny Danish territory in the north Atlantic and its fiercely independent people.
Milan Konovrat, a 33-year-old Croat, was sentenced yesterday to 14 years for killing Danjal Petur Hansen, who was last seen in November 2011 near his home in Runavik, on Eysturoy, the Faroes’ second-largest island.
Mr Hansen’s body has not been found – police believe it may have been thrown off a cliff, and divers searched stretches of rugged coastline in vain. But in Konovrat’s home police found a pillow and a frying pan with traces of Mr Hansen’s blood. At the trial it emerged Konovrat was having an affair with Mr Hansen’s former wife. It has been top news up here for weeks because it was the biggest crime story we ever had,” said Eirikur Lindenskov, chief editor of Sosialurin, the Faroes’ largest newspaper. “Also the fact that the body was missing made the intrigue better.”
Policing has generally been a relatively straightforward task in the Faroes, an 18-island archipelago between Scotland and Iceland, home to 48,500 people.
“The Faroes is a very peaceful and safe society,” said Bent JH Hansen, head of the islands’ prison board. “For many years, crime here was chiefly linked to drunken driving and drink-related brawls, but in recent years we have seen more drugs and drug-related violence.”
The last murder trial was in 1988 when a man shot and killed his girlfriend.
The islands have 14 prison cells, and about a dozen are occupied daily, the prison chief said. “For the past years that figure has been more or less constant,” Mr Hansen said, adding that anyone sentenced to more than a year is sent to prison in Denmark.
Foreign fishermen regularly stop off on the Faroes, but very few foreigners settle there.
Konovrat emigrated in 2009 for a fishing job in Runavik. He was one of the few foreigners on the islands, which have been granted more self-autonomy from Denmark in recent decades. He slowly integrated and learned to speak Faroese, his lawyer, Annfinn Vitalis Hansen, said. Apart from speaking their own language, islanders claim descent from the Vikings, fly their own flag and insist theirs is a separate nation even though they have been under Danish control since 1380, and were a Danish region until 1948.
Last month, a few hundred people gathered on a grey and day outside the house where the 42-year-old victim, known as Pidde, lived and allegedly was killed, to mourn him.
And the hardy Faroese are loath to attach wider significance to the murder. They see no problem with immigrants and do not like immigration to the rising crime figures.
“To us this is only a tragedy between three people that ended with a man disappearing and lots of blood and evidence against him. ,” said Jens-Kristian Vang, a meat-packer.