Lawrence suspect gets 9 years after using notoriety in bid for sof ter sentence
ONE of the Stephen Lawrence murder suspects was jailed for nine years yesterday over a £4million drug smuggling ring after a judge rejected a claim that he fled justice to escape headlines over the killing. Jamie Acourt, 42, went on the run for more than two years, heading to Spain after police smashed a huge drugs operation which he ran with his older brother Neil.
Yesterday Jamie Acourt’s barrister made an extraordinary plea to a judge for leniency, claiming the reason the drug smuggler evaded police was that he feared the ‘press coverage’ he would get after years of being dogged by stories about his suspected involvement in the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
The Acourt brothers were arrested shortly after the stabbing of the black teenager by a gang of white men at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, but they were never convicted.
In a landmark front page in 1997, the Daily Mail accused the Acourts, along with three other men, of killing the 18-year-old.
Jamie Acourt’s jailing, following his brother’s sentencing last February, means four of the five original suspects in Britain’s most notorious racist killing are now behind bars. Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted of the murder after new forensic evidence came to light. They were jailed for life in 2012. Luke Knight is the only suspect still walking the streets.
Yesterday Michael Holland QC, defending Jamie Acourt, told Kingston Crown Court: ‘This is an instance of a man who was overwhelmed by events, events that
‘Could not face the press coverage’
have followed him since he was 16.
‘He spent two years as a wanted man in Spain, doing odd jobs, doing building maintenance. He could not face the idea of coming into court again and face the amount of press coverage he would face.’
Mr Holland went on to suggest that his client even deserved credit for ‘withdrawing from the conspiracy’ – by skipping the country when other gang members were arrested following a two-year police surveillance operation.
When officers went to arrest Acourt at his home in Bexley, southeast London, in 2016, he had already vanished to Spain where he lived for two years under the alias Simon Alfonzo. The National Crime Agency eventually tracked him down in Barcelona in May this year, arresting him at gunpoint as he left a gym.
Mr Holland added that his client may have been tempted into a life of crime because he struggled to find work as a builder due to his name being associated with Stephen’s murder. The plea appeared to backfire yesterday when a judge handed Jamie Acourt a heftier sentence than his 43-yearold brother Neil, despite him being involved in the drugs conspiracy for a shorter time.
Last year Neil Acourt was sentenced to six years and three months along with five other gang members. The court heard that the Acourt brothers led a gang that moved cannabis resin worth £4million between London and the North East from 2014 to 2016.
Their network made 600-mile round trips in vans to South Shields to deliver drugs and collect money. At least 34 journeys were made.
The money collected was handed to one of the Acourt brothers.
Jamie Acourt initially denied the conspiracy to supply a Class B drug between January 2014 and February 2016, but changed his plea midway through the trial after hearing the evidence against him.
Yesterday Judge Peter Lodder, QC, said the sentence given to Neil Acourt last year was too lenient and that his younger brother, who admitted involvement in 28 drug-shipping trips, deserved a harsher punishment.
Fled to Spain: Jamie Acourt
Murdered: Stephen Lawrence