Lawrence sus­pect gets 9 years af­ter us­ing no­to­ri­ety in bid for sof ter sen­tence

Scottish Daily Mail - - Christmas Life - By Rebecca Cam­ber Crime Cor­re­spon­dent

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

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