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Pardoned jailbird sees his hopes of freedom dashed

Confusion over sentence review means Spain's longest-serving inmate must stay behind bars

After 35 years in jail and eight successful breakout attempts, Spain's longest-serving inmate received a government pardon yesterday that saw him and his family convinced that he would walk free immediately – only for him to remain behind bars.

Since 1976, Spanish courts have found Miguel Angel Montes Neiro guilty of more than 30 robberies and armed burglaries, many committed while on the run. But even as a spokesman for the Spanish government, Jose Blanco, confirmed yesterday that Montes Neiro, 61, had received a pardon for two of his multiple crimes, another outstanding sentence – for robbery and illicit possession of firearms – will see him remain in jail.

Montes Neiro, from the province of Granada in southern Andalusia, was predictably delighted when news of the pardon broke yesterday lunchtime, telling his family by phone: "Don't come to the prison gates when I get out, I want to walk the first two or three kilometres so I can feel the fresh air like a free man."

However, it emerged that his pardon was only partial and that a court review of a 13-year sentence was still pending.

Montes Neiro spent his first night in the cells in 1966, aged 16, when he was arrested for stealing a packet of cigarettes. His first formal sentence came a decade later for desertion – but not before he had spent 10 days in army prison for stealing a sub-machine gun.

During his numerous breakouts, the most recent in 2009 when he spent two hours on self-imposed parole to attend the wake for his mother, Montes Neiro found the time to marry twice and have two children – and to commit a string of hold-ups and kidnaps.

Montes Neiro's record is as varied as it is long. He has been convicted of beating up hostages on three occasions, and he once formed part of a gang that broke into a Granada home and threatened to cut off a man's thumb unless his wife revealed the location of his safe.

His escapes include one from a maximum security prison in the Spanish colony of Ceuta in 1979, but perhaps his most dramatic breakout came in 1981: after hanging himself in a staged suicide bid, breaking two ribs, he escaped from prison hospital in a taxi.

On the run for a total of three years, his repeated recapture was facilitated by his tendency to remain in or near his home town. His one spell abroad, in Morocco, ended when he returned to Granada because he missed his family.