A suspect in the Stephen Lawrence race murder was at the top of a multi-million pound drugs operation before he fled to Spain when police closed in, a court heard today.
Jamie Acourt, 42, was arrested in Barcelona earlier this year, but denies being the ringleader of a drugs racket which saw hundreds of kilos of cannabis transported around Britain between 2014 and 2016.
Crispin Aylett, QC, prosecuting, said couriers made 600 mile round trips between London and South Shields to deliver drugs, collect money, or both, 34 times in two years.
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 fled after police raided his home when he was out, Kingston Crown Court was told.
Jamie Acourt is now on trial at Kingston Crown Court after being extradited from Spain over a drugs plot to import cannabis. He is pictured in custody in Barcelona
Acourt was found living in the Catalan city under the name of Simon Alfonzo, two years after police raided his house in February 2016, it is claimed.
Acourt and his brother Neil, who has since changed his name to Neil Stuart, were accused of involvement in the notorious 1993 murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence. No case ever came to court.
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.
Jamie Acourt has always denied any involvement in the killing of Stephen Lawrence
Before the jury were sworn, Judge Peter Lodder QC presiding over the case, asked them: ‘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 in the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993,’ he said.
‘He has never been convicted of any offence arising out of the investigation arising out of that death.’
No jurors raised any issues after the judge told them about the background and 12 were sworn in.
Jurors heard 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.
Police seized at least 200 kilos of cannabis resin after intercepting two of the deliveries in May 2015 and February 2016 respectively.
The prosecutor said: ‘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 of their respective partners.’
‘One of the conspirators, Lee Birks, is the father of Jamie Acourt’s partner; another, Jack Vose, is Neil’s father-in-law.’
Jamie Acourt, pictured in a court sketch from a previous hearing, denies drug dealing
The gang were unaware they had been being monitored by surveillance officers since July 2014.
Associate Darren Thompson was arrested in May 2015 as he was about to take delivery of 100 kilos of cannabis worth £200,000.
Vose was found with 100 kilos of resin in South Shields on 1 February, 2016, the court heard.
Stephen Lawrence (above) was murdered in April 1993, sparking outrage from Britons over his cruel death
‘When police officers went to the defendant’s home in Bexley, there was nobody there,’ Mr Aylett said.
‘The officers broke down the door and began to search the house.
‘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.