A HOUNSLOW man has spoken of his relief after being released from prison in The Gambia, where he faced life behind bars for fraud.
Michael Sheehy, of Wellington Road South, was on holiday when he was arrested in February on suspicion of cashing fake travellers' cheques.
The 20-year-old spent five months in jail, where he claims he was beaten by fellow inmates, before finally being cleared of the charges and released two weeks ago.
“It's a huge relief to be back and I just want to get on with my life,” said Mr Sheehy. “I've never been in trouble before and couldn't believe it when they arrested me and told me I could be jailed for life.”
Mr Sheehy's problems began when he ran into a German man at a bar. The stranger told him he knew a couple of Nigerians who needed someone with an EU passport to cash some travellers' cheques for them, in return for 15% commission.
He agreed to do it but when he went to cash the cheque at what he described as a 'small hut' soldiers immediately swooped and arrested him.
They eventually let the former kitchen porter go after he helped them track down the other three men, only for him to see the German on the streets again just three days later.
“I couldn't believe he was out but he told me the travellers' cheques had been confirmed,” said Mr Sheehy. “I felt guilty so I agreed to meet the Nigerians again and help them but only if I could do it properly at a big bank this time.”
Mr Sheehy was able to cash seven travellers' cheques at a branch of Standard Chartered, worth £14,400 in total, each time providing his correct ID, name and contact details.
But when he arranged to meet a female cashier for a drink the police 'came storming in' and he was again arrested. This time the German and both Nigerian men had disappeared and there was to be no quick release.
Mr Sheehy was finally acquitted at Kanifing Magistrates' Court on July 7 after judges ruled there was insufficient evidence he knew the cheques were false.
Despite the ordeal he said he would happily return to Gambia, which he has visited nearly a dozen times.