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Christian put his life in focus as photographer after jail term for drugs.

Byline: katie gupwell Reporter katie.gupwell@walesonline.co.uk

Christian John O'Reilly knew things had to change when the other drug dealers he worked for made him take a lie detector test to find out where their money had gone.

He had been dealing drugs for a gang which saw earn enough money to quit his job and jet off to Puerto Rico and buy all the clothes and cars he wanted. He was leaving money in empty crisp packets and feared he'd end up dead.

In the end he said he was willing to get caught because he knew that was the only way he would change.

His dream came true when he was busted following a 12-month investigation led by South Wales Police's Specialist Crime Investigations team.

In 2012 Christian was given a fouryear prison sentence for conspiracy to supply drugs as one of 11 people jailed for a combined term of almost 30 years at Newport Crown Court.

He was part of a drugs gang who tried to smuggle more than PS1.7m worth of cannabis into the UK. Spanish custom officials had seized 413kg of cannabis resin hidden in sandstone pillars in Barcelona which were destined for the UK. The Serious Organised Crime Agency had tracked the drugs to an unlikely barn on a farm off Cefn Pennar Road in Mountain Ash. It was at this farm that the gang members realised the pillars used to smuggle the drugs were empty.

"We would bring it through the UK border and it would go from Kent to Mountain Ash," said Christian, who ended up spending two years behind bars. It would be sent to a PO Box in London so they had to follow it. The company in Spain would then post it to the UK. [Customs officials] found it and took all the drugs out. They took it all out in Spain and followed it all the way to me."

Three people - including Christian - were arrested as they left the farm.

"I genuinely believe if I hadn't been caught I would have gone further and further and would have ended up dead," said Christian.

The former drug dealer is now free from prison and is working as a photographer with his own successful business. Most people wouldn't recognise the man in the police mugshot from 2012. Today, 31-year-old Christian is slimmer, has longer hair, and is clearly older and wiser.

He admits he made some bad decisions and says he's worked "incredibly hard" to turn his life around.

Christian said the drug dealing all started when he got in with a bad crowd during his late teens.

He said dealing cannabis started off as a way of earning some extra cash at the weekend. But as he got a taste for the lavish lifestyle he ended up dispatching large amounts.

Christian said he had a good upbringing with a supportive family and when he was growing up he wanted to be an aircraft engineer.

"During my late teens I did not have a social life - my [former] girlfriend got pregnant at 17 so I had a family by the time I was 18.

"I would always want bigger and better things. I started out just dealing socially but then it became more of a business and I was going higher and higher and higher.

"I had more money than you could imagine. I would spend it all on the best cars and would spend loads of money on clothes."

Christian said there was a certain moment which made him realise exactly what he had got himself into.

One day he found himself hooked up to a lie detector test in a London hotel room along with other gang members after some cash had disappeared.

He said he remembers "hearing his heart beating outside his body" the day it happened.

"Money went missing on this one deal and they had to put everyone on a lie detector test to see who took it," he said.

"I was glad [the police] came for me because I was in so deep - I wanted it."

When he came out of jail, Christian was able to focus on his new-found love of photography.

He decided to go freelance and specialised in weddings. And it wasn't long before he met the love of his life - Yaky Di Roma - on an online photography chat forum in 2016. Christian has also now legally adopted Yaky's four-year-old son Hans.

With Christian and Yaky both being photographers they eventually merged their business together to create one.

Fire and Ice - the company name was inspired by Christian's ginger hair and Yaky's blue hair - specialises in destination weddings. Business for the nowmarried couple is thriving and they are also expecting a baby.

In his blog Photography Saved My Life, Christian wrote: "There are many and many people who faced adversity and serious setbacks due to stupid decisions in their lives but didn't give up on themselves. I am just one example. I truly regret my past and I hate the person I was. Every opportunity I get to give back, I take them. The system works, you just have to work with it."

CAPTION(S):

Fire and Ice /Christian O'Reilly

Fire and Ice /Christian O'Reilly

Fire and Ice /Christian O'Reilly

<B Christian O'Reilly has become a worldwide wedding photographer after turning his life around after he spent time in prison. Above: Some examples of his work Rob Browne
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 21, 2018
Words:910
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