Health workers in La Línea de la Concepción were in shock this week after a group of around 20 people wearing hoods and carrying sticks and knives stormed the accident and emergency department at the local hospital, removing a patient who was under arrest with a police guard.
Unions have said that the level of police protection is inadequate, not just in the hospital but also in the town overall, after a surge in activity by drug gangs recently. The area, alongside Gibraltar, has traditionally been favoured by the gangs bringing ashore drugs from north Africa.
The hooded assailants entered the hospital on Tuesday afternoon, assaulting two security guards and pushing their way through the casualty department until they found the patient. The youth was then bundled into a waiting car.
Police said that the freed man is a known offender and had been admitted to the hospital under arrest after falling off his motorbike while fleeing a police checkpoint. They say that another man who was with him when he fell but who had managed to run away told the rest of the gang, who quickly arranged for the hospital to be raided.
Two police who were guarding the prisoner were slightly wounded by the hooded gang but managed to detain one of them, while two Guardía Civil officers were also reported injured when a four-wheel-drive vehicle belonging to the gang hit them as the officers were searching the local area afterwards.
The mayor of La Línea, Juan Franco, said on Wednesday that a special action plan was needed to reinforce security in the area and also to reduce the high level of local poverty and unemployment, which, he said, was the root cause of the rising levels of drug crime.