Lottery winners forced to go into hiding after extortion attempts

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(First Edition)

THE perils of acquiring sudden wealth in the midst of envy have been highlighted by the case of two elderly Limerick bachelors forced to go into hiding after their success in the Irish national lottery made them targets for repeated extortion attempts by an armed gang.

The two men, aged 59 and 61, had asked that their names remain confidential when their membership of a five-strong winning Limerick city syndicate netted them more than Ir pounds 100,000 (pounds 97,200) last February.

But the practice of revealing which shop sold the ticket that won the Irpounds 561,424 jackpot helped fuel local speculation about the winners' identity. This in turn reached the ears of a criminal gang in the city. Supt Liam Quinn of Limerick police said three men held the brothers at gunpoint at their home on 27 March and demanded Ir pounds 15,000. They were made to go to the bank and withdraw the money in cash. Fearing reprisals, the pair, a retired teacher and a bank clerk, decided against reporting the incident.

On 5 April the gang returned and tried to extort another Ir pounds 15,000. The brothers still made no complaint to the police but instead went into hiding.

Local sources said detectives only became aware of the extortion through local gossip and so far have received little information from the victims, who were living in a run-down house in the King's Island area of the city overlooking the river Shannon. The names of the two men have not be published at the request of the police.

The National Lottery in Dublin said yesterday the policy of revealing the name of the shop selling a winning ticket would continue as this was often instrumental in prompting people to check numbers on winning tickets before making a claim.

He said incidents such as that involving the two brothers were 'regrettable', but were rare when taken against the total of 1,600 people who had won large prizes since the lottery began seven years ago. It urged anyone threatened in this way to tell the police immediately.