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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Cumbrian grandmother tells of car-jacking terror

A grandmother has given a graphic account of how she was targeted in a terrifying night-time car-jacking.

Car-jacking woman photo
Wendy Cuerda-Rodriguez and her partner Bryce Riley

Retired art teacher Wendy Cuerda-Rodriguez, 68, was alone and waiting at traffic lights when a stranger dragged her from her car and flung her to the ground.

Badly bruised and in shock, she flagged down another car whose driver took on the role of Good Samaritan, at one stage attempting to follow the robber as he fled in Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez’s Skoda.

The man who robbed her, 19-year-old Liam McMeechan, was this week jailed for three and a half years.

From her home in Scotby, near Carlisle, Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez spoke publicly for the first time of her ordeal, which happened in Canonbie, north of Longtown.

She said: “It was 10pm, and very dark because the street lights near the traffic lights were all broken.

“I was driving home with a car full of belongings from another property and I could see the figure of a man sitting on a wall near the road. I just assumed it was one of the local boys.

“I was waiting for the traffic light to change when I was suddenly aware that somebody had flung open the car door and was leaning into the car; leaning over me. He was yelling at me. I was in shock – I just couldn’t believe it was happening.

“I wondered if he was on drugs. There was nobody around to call to for help.

“At first, I was frozen with the horror of it but I realised I had to get out of that car.”

The pensioner – a former head of the art department at Langholm Academy – managed to undo her seatbelt and McMeechan then dragged her from the driver’s seat.

“He swung me around, and threw me across the road. I landed badly on my hip and banged my head.

“I remember screaming but I managed to get up and saw him getting into my car and tearing off across the bridge in it.”

Seconds later, Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez saw another car approaching the bridge and flagged down its driver.

Getting into the passenger seat, sobbing, she told motorist David Robb what had happened and he offered to help, immediately setting off in pursuit of the fleeing carjacker.

“I was in tears – hysterical,” said Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez.

“He was absolutely flabbergasted, but he quickly said that we should follow my car.

“We set off, but sadly we lost sight of my Skoda.”

Returning to Canonbie, Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez and her rescuer waited for the police and ambulance crews to arrive, alerted after Mr Robb called her partner Bryce Riley, 65.

By coincidence, the paramedics who arrived to help her were two of her former pupils from Langholm. “They were so caring, compassionate and helpful,” she said.

Mr Riley also spoke of his shock, and his memory of arriving in Canonbie. He said: “I arrived to find Wendy in a terrible state; numb with the shock of it, shaking, and in the middle of something that seemed unreal.”

Both Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez and Mr Riley are still living with the effects of the carjacking. She was left afraid to travel on her own and distressed by having to attend an identity parade and having her injuries photographed.

Those injuries have also accelerated her arthritis to the point where she now needs a hip replacement.

Her £2,000 Skoda has never been recovered, and nor were the contents, which included many family heirlooms and artworks of great sentimental value.

Also missing was her mobile phone – though she kept her old number, and in the weeks after the attack found she was getting calls for McMeechan.

Mr Riley, who was deputy rector at Langholm Academy, said he feels angered by the way Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez was treated by the teenager.

He said: “Wendy is a very moral person, who always tries her best to help people.

“She tries to bring out the best in other people.

“After it happened, she said she felt pity for this young man, saying his background perhaps made him think this was an acceptable way to behave.

“But I feel angry about it; it’s affected the whole family, including her son and three grandchildren.”

Ms Cuerda-Rodriguez added: “Bryce has been my strength, and I could not have coped with this on my own.

“It has been like a nightmare. I was pleased with his sentence [for McMeechan] but I would have liked to see him in court; to have had a chance to tell him to turn his life around.

“I realise I’ve been very lucky. It could have been so much worse.”

She added a thank you to all the people who had helped the police investigation and to everybody who helped her.

McMeechan, of Ransome Gardens, Edinburgh, who admitted carrying out the robbery in October 2011, was jailed for 41 months. Sherriff Kenneth Ross said: “This must have been a terrifying experience for this woman.”

PColeman@cngroup.co.uk

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