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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Britain’s 'Most Wanted' man arrested over Spanish drug plot

Jamie Acourt faces extradition to Britain 25 year after death of Steven Lawrence in London

One of Britain's most wanted fugitives Jamie Acourt is detained in Barcelona, Spain following a joint police operation. UK National Crime Agency via AP
One of Britain's most wanted fugitives Jamie Acourt is detained in Barcelona, Spain following a joint police operation. UK National Crime Agency via AP

Armed police arrested one of Britain’s most wanted criminals over an alleged large-scale Barcelona cannabis plot identified by UK and Spanish authorities.

Jamie Acourt, 41, is accused of being part of a conspiracy to supply drugs in Britain. Friday's arrest came after a joint police operation between Scotland Yard, the National Crime Agency and Spanish National Police.

Mr Acourt was one of five white men suspected of murdering Stephen Lawrence in a racist 1993 knife attack that shocked Britain. Mr Acourt has always maintained his innocence and charges against him were eventually dropped for lack of evidence.

One of the judges at the time described the attack as a "murder which scarred the conscience of the nation".

Officers arrested Mr Acourt on a European Arrest Warrant over the alleged drug crime as he left the Metropolitan Sagrada Familia Gym, the National Crime Agency said.

He is expected to appear in a Madrid court on Monday or Tuesday for an extradition hearing.

Police reportedly had Mr Acourt under surveillance for a while but he escaped arrest by using false documents.

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"Acourt thought he could evade capture but as a result of an intelligence-led operation his days on the run have ended,” Ian Cruxton, NCA head of international operations said.

“Our ability to share information and work at speed with our international partners ensures there is no safe haven for fugitives.”

He is the 81st fugitive found through Operation Captura — a multi-agency initiative involving Britain and Spain.

Scotland Yard said the arrest warrant was issued to trace Mr Acourt in relation to a narcotics investigation launched in 2016 with the Serious and Organised Crime Command.

Steve Reynolds, the NCA's regional head of international operations, said Mr Acourt's extradition was likely to take "days or weeks rather than months".

“We’ve been looking for Mr Acorn for some considerable time and I think he was taking a lot of trouble to hide,” Mr Reynolds said.

“I don’t think he’s necessarily recognisable to the average person who doesn’t know him. I think he probably took great care with whom he mixed and I think he took trouble to conceal his identity.”

Britain’s NCA has a team in Spain who deal with serious organised crime. While the UK staff don’t have arrest powers, they liaise closely with Spanish authorities in cases involving child sexual exploitation, drug trafficking or tracking down criminals.

Mr Reynolds said many fugitives think they can “hide in plain sight" in Spain because of its large British ex-pat community.

Mr Acourt was last seen in the UK in February 2016.

The long-running Stephen Lawrence murder case file remains open. Two men, Gary Dobson, 42, and David Norris, 41, have been jailed for life.

Mr Acourt was 16 at the time of Mr Lawrence’s murder. His brother, Neil, was also a murder suspect.

At the time of his death Mr Lawrence was studying and hoping to become an architect.