‘Michael is an incredibly charming, charismatic guy . . . incredibly popular’
Lynn’s past was not entirely mysterious – he told people he felt he couldn’t return to Ireland and had questions to answer in a civil court
The Britanic language school in Recife, Brazil, in which Michael Lynn taught English for 13 hours a week. Photograph: Ruadhán Mac Cormaic
Pinned to the door of the small staff room at the Britanic language school in Piedade, on the heaving outskirts of Recife, a handwritten entry on last Thursday’s timetable is one of the few remaining traces of his presence. It reads: “Michael: Absent”. The column marked “reason” is simply left blank.
That morning, the fugitive solicitor who has eluded the Irish authorities for six years, was arrested by plainclothes police officers as he did his shopping at a mall near his home. The school’s director, Mark Astle, learned what had happened when Lynn’s wife, Bríd, called to say her husband wouldn’t make it to work that day.
Staff and students have been struggling since to reconcile their memories of the charming Irish man they knew for the past year with the man at the centre of the complex extradition saga they have been following on television.
“Michael is an incredibly charming, charismatic guy,” says Astle, who gave Lynn a job last July and describes him now as a friend. “He was incredibly popular.”
Since July last year, the Co Mayo man has been teaching English at Britanic for 13 hours a week, mainly on Fridays and Saturdays, for which he earned 2,000 reals (€640) a month, including the bonus for native-speakers.
He didn’t have any qualifications, but his documents were in order. He had worked briefly for another language school and showed an appetite to learn, Astle adds. “I kept him because he was of huge benefit to the school, without taking an interest in his past – maybe I should have. He was a great bloke.”
Colleagues recall a friendly, outgoing man who would occasionally come along for a drink after work but whose life centred on the house where he lived with his wife and two-year-old son in the suburb of Candeias. With Bríd heavily pregnant, Michael stayed in most nights.
“The only thing I found strange about him was that he couldn’t speak Portuguese very well, and his wife couldn’t either,” says Olga Accetti, a teacher at the school. “I wondered what they were doing here, but he was always friendly and nice with the students.”
Living in a house is an uncommon and prohibitively expensive choice in Recife, where a property boom has put a premium on every square foot of residential land and the sky is a bar chart of half-completed towers.
The Lynns however had three dogs as well as a few cats and birds and they were determined not to live in an apartment block.
The choice surprised colleagues because the more expensive option came at a cost – not far from the house, which is about five blocks in from the sea, the roads are unpaved, the sewers leak on to the pavement and the bulbs on the street- lamps have all been smashed, leaving the area pitch-black at night. Many of the houses in Candeias are surrounded by barbed wire and overlooked by security cameras.
Nearby is a long stretch of sandy beach, but large signs warn that swimming is prohibited because of sharks.
Colleagues recall Lynn’s good humour. He was forever joking, says Astle, and didn’t give the impression of someone who was anxious or stressed, yet it was clear to everyone he knew that he missed home.
“He never, ever stopped talking about Ireland, ” says Astle. “I would say he was already in a sort of open prison anyway . . . He missed Ireland and his wife missed it. She went back every now and then.”
Lynn was a member of the Caxagna Golf and Country Club, the only one in Recife, whose 63 acres – complete with tennis courts, horse-riding facilities and restaurant – make it a sanctuary from the bustling, chaotic city. Lynn never played golf himself, but he would take his son there occasionally to show him the horses.
To his acquaintances in Recife, Lynn’s past was not entirely mysterious – he told people he felt he couldn’t return to Ireland and had questions to answer in a civil court – but Astle says he never looked into his employee’s background.
“He didn’t try to keep it from us, to be honest. Everybody he met professionally, he told them, but I think most people didn’t really want to know – me included.”
When Bríd called to say Michael wouldn’t be at work last Thursday, Astle accompanied her to the police station where he was being held. They saw him briefly before he was transferred to Cotel prison, an overcrowded facility about an hour’s drive from the city.
“He hugged his wife and said thanks. He didn’t seem to be that worked up about it, but his wife said he was very scared.”