A suspect in the Stephen Lawrence race murder fled to Spain for two years – using a false name to evade justice after police busted his multi-million pound drugs operation, a court heard.
Jamie Acourt, 42, was arrested in Barcelona earlier this year, but denies being the ringleader of the drugs racket – which saw hundreds of kilos of top quality cannabis resin transported up and down the country between 2014 and 2016.
Acourt lived in the Catalan city under the name of Simon Alfonzo for two years after police raided his house in February 2016, Kingston Crown Court heard.
On the first day of his trial today (Weds) one of the country’s most wanted fugitives appeared in the dock with the same man-bun he was pictured sporting following his arrest at the Metropolitan Sagrada Familia Gym in Barcelona in May.
He wore a crisp white shirt underneath a smart black suit coat and dark blue denim jeans.
The court heard six others have already been convicted for being part of the gang – including Acourt’s father-in-law Lee Birks, his brother Neil, and Neil’s father-in-law Jack Vose.
Acourt and his brother Neil, who has since changed his name to Neil Stuart, were cleared of the notorious 1993 murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence after the first trial at the Old Bailey in 1996.
Stephen, who wanted to become an architect, was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Eltham, south east London, in April 1993.
Gary Dobson and David Norris were eventually convicted and jailed for life when new forensic evidence came to light in 2011.
Before the jury were sworn, the judge residing over the case Judge Peter Lodder QC asked them: “If any of you are either a serving or retired police officer with the Met Police or a close relative or close friend of such a person then if your name is called you should indicate.
“Secondly this. At the beginning of every trial the jurors are told that any defendant is to be tried only on the evidence which is given in court.
“The defendant in this case is Jamie Acourt, his name may be familiar to you because it has been alleged that he played a part of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
“He has never been convicted of any offence arising out of the investigation into that death. This trial is solely concerned with an allegation of conspiracy to supply cannabis during the years 2014 to 2016.
“It goes without saying that Mr Acourt is entitled to a fair trial. So if you are selected to sit on this case you must try the case only on the evidence before you and on nothing else.
“However if there’s any reason why you do not feel that you can try this case fairly then you should indicate when your name is called and I will decide whether you will serve on this jury.”
Jurors heard during the opening of the case that Acourt was a ‘ringleader’ of the operation as he was seen receiving money after from delivery men – who made 34 trips between London and the north east of England during the period.
Crispin Aylett, prosecuting, said: “The prosecution allege that Jamie Acourt was part of a long-running conspiracy to supply huge quantities of cannabis resin.
“Between January 2014 and February 2016, just over two years, large quantities of cannabis were transported from south-east London to South Shields, near Newcastle, in the North-East of England.
“Several different men were involved in driving to South Shields in order to deliver drugs or collect money or both.
“Over a period of just over two years, the prosecution allege that there were at least 34 such trips.
“The delivery men tended to make the trip – a round journey of about 600 miles – in the same day.
“The prosecution allege that whenever any money was collected, on returning to south-east London the delivery men would hand the money over either to the defendant or else to his brother Neil.
“So since the delivery men were taking most of the risks and the defendant and his brother were receiving the money, the prosecution allege that the defendant and his brother must have been the ringleaders.
“That the defendant and his brother were at the heart of what was going on is also apparent from the fact that among the delivery men were the fathers or step-fathers of their respective partners.”
Police seized at least 200 kilos of cannabis resin after intercepting two of the deliveries in May 2015 and February 2016 respectively.
The gang were unaware they had been being monitored by surveillance officers since July 2014.
It was said that after the latter seizure, officers went to Acourt’s home in Bexley and broke down the door – but Acourt was not at home.
Mr Aylett said: “While they were there, the defendant’s partner, Terri-Ann Dean, returned home.
“Ms Dean then rang the defendant and handed the telephone to a police officer – who advised the defendant either to come home or else hand himself in at a police station.
“The defendant did neither of those things. Instead, he went to Spain – where he remained for over two years.”
Acourt, of no fixed address, denies one count of conspiracy to supply class B drugs.
The trial continues.
By Adela Whittingham