Devon

Ex-drug cartel pilot jailed for axe murder bid

Andrew Barnes/ Pic: Devon and Cornwall Police Image copyright Devon and Cornwall Police/BBC
Image caption Andrew Barnes, who used to fly cocaine out of Colombia, tried to kill his lodger with an axe

A former drug cartel's pilot has been jailed for trying to kill his unwanted lodger with an axe as he slept.

Andrew Barnes, 61, hit Luke Down with four heavy axe blows to his head, leaving him with brain injuries and close to death.

Barnes, from Topsham, Devon, admitted attempted murder and was jailed for 15 and a half years at Exeter Crown Court.

The judge described the axe attack as an "impetuous moment of madness".

More on Andrew Barnes, and other Devon news

Mr Down, 29, had been staying at Barnes's flat for free when he was attacked with the long-handled axe as he slept in the lounge.

He had been paying his way by bringing round alcohol and food, but Barnes claimed he had become violent and abusive towards him, the court heard.

The trigger for the attack was Mr Down's threat to claim squatter's rights and barricade himself in the flat.

The court heard how the injuries would have been fatal if Barnes had removed the protective cover over the blade.

The life and crimes of Andrew Barnes

Jailed Andrew Barnes was once a drug cartel pilot, flying cocaine from Colombia to the United States.

Public school educated at Blundells in Tiverton, Barnes moved to America where he ran his own freight airline in the late 1970s.

But his business ran into financial trouble and in the early 1980s Barnes was employed by the Medellin cartel, flying their cocaine to remote US airstrips and Caribbean islands.

The planes left Colombia loaded with cocaine and returned crammed with so many dollar bills that drug lords such as Pablo Escobar built apartments with millions hidden in the cavity walls.

Barnes worked mainly for Carlos Lehder, who he testified against at his trial in Jacksonville in 1988.

Image copyright Policia Nacional de Colombia
Image caption Carlos Lehder became one of the richest men in Colombia

He was jailed for eight years in the US after admitting drug smuggling, before being moved to a witness protection scheme.

He returned to Britain in the late 1990s and descended into a spiral of alcohol abuse.

He moved into a flat owned by his family in Topsham and worked for 18 months at the SPCK religious bookshop on Cathedral Green.

In July 2001 he set light to the 15th century building housing the bookshop, causing £200,000 damage and forcing the evacuation of the neighbouring Ship Inn.

He also set light to a boat on the banks of the River Exe after the owner refused to sell it to him, and was jailed for four years.

He was a well-known figure in Exeter, Exmouth and Topsham, regaling people with tall stories of his exploits as a drug-smuggling pilot.

Source: SnowBird: The Rise and Fall of a Medellin Drug Pilot

Sentencing Barnes over the axe attack, Judge Mr Justice Dingemans told him: "You acted impetuously and on the spur of the moment.

"While he [Mr Down] has made a remarkable physical recovery, he is going to have very serious long term health consequences.

"This was an spontaneous attempt to kill because you were fed up with Mr Down saying he was going to claim squatter's rights and also lying on your bed

"There is significant mitigation in the fact that he undoubtedly provoked you, although that is not to say there was any justification for this moment of madness."