The owner of the much-maligned Lupesina Treesort, Jack Batchelor, has broken his silence for the first time in a brave effort to tell his side of the story.
After worldwide media coverage – the latest being 60 Minutes in Australia last week – of an incident where an escaped convict attacked and raped an Australian woman at his property; the businessman said the impact has been devastating.
“I’ll be straight up front with you, this has killed my business,” Mr. Batchelor told the Sunday Samoan yesterday.
“Since the Tree house has been in business, we were rated number one on Trip Advisor; we normally only got five star reviews.
“After that night the following reviews came in and with that one review we dropped down to number seven. We’re still going down. Since the first of the year, we have had over $73,000 in cancelation of bookings for the Treesort; that’s not counting my restaurant.
“We’ve actually had more cancelations this year than bookings; we’re just barely getting by and it’s not fair because we’re being treated like it was our fault.
“We feel like people are looking at us and talking about us like ‘don’t go to Lupesina because it’s dangerous’ I think I have one of the safest resorts.”
For Mr. Batchelor, it has been tough.
“This was my retirement,” he said about the dream house on the aoa tree.
“I put everything I had in savings because when I first came here, my first resort was taken over by the tsunami. Something else happened to me when a person stole a foreign investment, a lot of money.
“My last chance is the tree house and I invested everything in the tree house.
“Things were going great until this rape; and this rape has ruined me.”
Asked about what happened on that fateful night, Mr. Batchelor said Angie Jackson did not deserve what happened. But he believes Tualima is such a dangerous person nothing could have stopped him. The incident could happened anywhere, he said.
“The first thing I want to say is that our deepest sympathy goes out to Tom and Angie. On the day it happened we had a great time, Tom caught a fish and the girls prepared it for them and they had a great dinner.
“They had some drinks afterwards and we had fun; at about 10pm the couple went to bed for their flight and we knew they were going to be picked up at 3am.
“We always prepare dinners or breakfast for our guests when they leave so we got up, made the coffee and got things ready and the taxi driver was here waiting.
“Once we realized they weren’t ready, Victoria went down to the tree house to find out why; that’s when she walked in on the rapist.”
Mr. Batchelor said this is one of the untold aspects of what happened.
“She (Victoria) didn’t just walk in. He beat her up as she was screaming for help. She was punched multiple times. Obviously she stopped the rape and whatever was going to happen next.
“So I came running, the taxi driver pointed at the direction he went and I chased him in the dark to the best I could but I couldn’t find him.”
Mr. Batchelor reiterated that what happened to Tom and Angie was terrible.
“We did the best we could to comfort them. We called the Police and the police came and did their investigation and that was the last time we’ve seen Tom and Angie. It was a very sad night for Samoa and our business Lupesina.”
The incident has also raised questions about the security at the property, given its isolation.
“If you see the tree house, its 40 feet off the ground,” he said. “This man came at 2am, it’s totally dark, climbed over the top of that rift, and from the second story deck came down the outside pole.
“So he started out at 40ft off the ground and outside slid down to 30ft off the ground to the second floor, then he went through what no one is talking about, an open door.
“The door was open according to his statement with the Police department.”
Mr. Batchelor said that apart from Angie and Tom, all his other guests have never had any problems, security wise.
“I think my resort is very safe and if you ask any of my other guests; they feel safe here.”
Asked about the Prime Minister’s comments on 60 Minutes about the location of his property, he said: “You know what I like the Prime Minister. I don’t agree with what he said because I came to Samoa seven years ago; I found Samoa over 20 years ago and kept coming back on vacations because I felt safe here.
“I moved over and started this business as a semi-retirement and made the commitment so what he said I disagree with; Samoa is a safe place.”
“This is a dangerous criminal who escaped and did a lot of damage to tourism, Samoa’s reputation, our reputation and it hurt our business; so he’s hurt so many people. Sorry just doesn’t cut it.”
The property owner said he has security.
“We have security when we have a lot of guests at the security house up above,” he said. “That’s to keep people from coming down and to keep their privacy; at night time we have locks on all the doors and it’s high up off the ground.
“You hear my dog at the background, we have dogs who hear noise and do that (bark); they didn’t hear nothing that night; nothing would have stopped this man.
“He would have climbed over any fence just like the other resorts; he would have gone around when no one was around and jumped over the fence.
“Do you think a fence would be a problem for a guy who climbed up 40ft in a tree? No that’s not… is it harder to get into a tree house that’s off the ground than something that’s on the ground?
“I think my place is very safe; nothing has ever happened; this is the only incident that’s ever happened to us and now everyone is saying security… build a fence. What would a fence do here when there’s no one around?”
Asked about the standard of the prison and if he felt that this would never have happened if the prisons kept Tualima there, Mr. Batchelor said that he would rather stay away from politics.
“I love Samoa and I don’t know everything that’s going on because I stay out of politics,” he said. “All I know is that this has really hurt us, and I cannot comment on something that I don’t know about because that makes people look like fools.
“It has also hurt our restaurant, with our restaurant a lot of local people would come and we have great food, everyone has a great time.
“Since this has happened nobody’s coming, just our guests are the only few who come. We were trying to stay in the background of this whole thing but after everything that’s being said it feels like people are throwing darts at me; I’ve had enough.”
Lastly, Mr. Batchelor reiterated that Samoa is safe and his property is equally safe.
“Samoa is a very safe place to be,” he said. “I moved here because the way it is; the people are very friendly, it’s not commercialized like the other islands; if you want to experience the South Pacific culture then this is the place to come.
“I love Samoa; that’s all I can say about that so please come and stay with us.”
Mr. Batchelor also wants everyone to give credit where it is due and that is to a person whom he describes as a hero.
It is Victoria Reupena who fended off Tualima ultimately even saving the lives of Tom and Angie.
“Without Victoria putting her life on the line; who knows what he would have done? You can’t speculate but who knows what he would have done; so if anything, thank God for Victoria, thank God for Samoa and please protect us all.”