herald

Saturday 25 October 2014

Irish brothers escape from Venezuela jail

TWO Irish brothers have escaped a jail in Venezuela where they were serving 11 years on foot of convictions for cocaine smuggling.

Leigh (25) and Dermot O'Neill (21) are back home in Athlone after walking out of the notorious San Juan prison where they were incarcerated last year.

An Irish priest in Caracas said he got a call from them.

"They usually rang me for money, but they said they'd escaped," said Fr John Jennings. It's believed they stayed with a Venezuelan man who had also escaped.

"It is likely they would've handed over a lot of money. You don't walk out the front door without help from officials," he added.

Leigh had pleaded guilty to the offences, while his younger brother Dermot protested his innocence.

The lads spent the past few weeks making their way home from South America.

Locals told the Herald that the pair have been seen with their sister in recent days.

"We never heard they were home so it was a bit surprising," said one resident. The family is originally from the town's Parnell Square estate.

In March last year the two had been travelling with Irishman Martin 'Butch' Beirne in Venezuela when Beirne, who had addresses in Sligo and Roscommon, died in a Caracas hotel after a cocaine-filled condom burst in his stomach.

Police arrested the O'Neill brothers and discovered Leigh had "foreign objects" in his body. He later passed 92 balloons filled with 725g of cocaine worth €50,000

But an X-ray of younger brother Dermot showed he hadn't swallowed any drugs.

"It's great they are back," an uncle named Tommy was quoted as saying today.

hnews@herald.ie

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