Ham hold-up shows there's no cure for Spain's criminal hero

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The Independent Online

When Juan Diego Redondo was arrested on Saturday after raiding a supermarket in a smart Barcelona suburb, the lawyer called to represent him knew his client. His late father, also a lawyer, had acted for him decades back in similar cases.

Redondo, 46, known as "Dieguito el Malo" (the Bad), is a serial escaper from Barcelona's prisons and something of a local hero. Before this latest holdup, Dieguito downed three beers in the bar next door. He joked with the barman, paid his bill, left a tip and said he must be going "because it was getting late".

He then slipped into a side door of the supermarket while an employee was putting out rubbish before closing. He held eight women hostage at gunpoint while he demanded €30,000 (£20,000) from the safe, and a ham. After more than an hour, the women convinced him to give himself up. When police handcuffed him and carted him off to prison yet again, a passer-by grasped him by the hand and wished him luck.

One of eight children of a widowed mother, Dieguito entered an orphanage, aged seven, from whence he fairly quickly escaped, only to be found the next day, asleep in the truck of a travelling fairground. It was the first of a string of escapades over the ensuing four decades.

At 40, having learnt to read and write in prison, he wrote an autobiography, The Flight of the 45, a mixture of Oliver Twist and Papillon, in which he told how he organised and led an epic breakout in 1978, during which 45 prisoners tunnelled through sewers and emerged on to the streets of central Barcelona.

Last December, he was granted 17 hours parole to launch his book in a bookshop in Barcelona's chic Gracia district. "The shop was full and we sold a lot of books," an employee recalled this week. Dieguito el Malo was serving 10 years for armed robbery, but in August he failed to return from a three-day parole. Police issued a search and detention order, which did not stop the popular criminal appearing on Catalan television in September to describe his life in and out of 18 penal institutions since early childhood.

During one spell of freedom, Dieguito married, had a son and daughter and trained as a carpenter. But on returning to jail for an outstanding offence, his wife committed suicide and his infant daughter was electrocuted by a cable.

Normally restrained Barcelona newspapers lamented this week how Dieguito el Malo had become so institutionalised by decades behind bars that he was afraid of freedom and incapable of going straight. He never harmed anyone in his many holdups, and even tried to distribute Christmas hampers to the supermarket staff he held to ransom.

He asked to be pardoned for his desperate action that was, he said, an attempt to get money for his son. "No one has taken him to school for three years, so I must take care of him," he said. "I want to form a home and family like everyone else."