Eddie Maher pleads guilty

An Essex man who spent almost 20 years as a fugitive in the US has admitted the theft of a security van containing £1.2 million and been sentenced to five years in prison.

Eddie Maher - known as "Fast Eddie" - was wanted by Suffolk Police after the Securicor van he was driving disappeared from outside the Lloyds Bank in Felixstowe, Suffolk, on January 22 1993.

A Securicor van in Felixstowe Credit: ITV News Anglia

The 57-year-old, originally from South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, was arrested by US authorities in February last year and held in custody awaiting trial after denying the theft following his deportation.

But he entered a last-minute guilty plea at Southwark Crown Court in London and is expected to be sentenced.

Maher, who used the false identities of Stephen King and his brother Michael Maher while on the run, intended to fight the allegation on the grounds that he had been forced to commit the crime after racking up "significant debts".

Security guard Eddie Maher Credit: ITV News Anglia

But Suffolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service built up evidence proving that the former soldier and firefighter had profited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

During his time on the run, Maher built a new life with his partner, Deborah Brett, and their son Lee, who was three years old at the time of the theft.

After his conviction, detectives revealed details of a series of property investments they say he funded from the proceeds of the crime, including a house in Colorado bought with 120,000 US dollars in cash just six months after the theft.

Later Maher built a ranch on 80 acres in Colorado before moving around various US states and at the time of his arrest on February 9 last year, he was working as a cable engineer in Missouri.

But his attempts to escape justice unravelled as he was arrested for illegally possessing firearms and when US authorities contacted their UK counterparts about immigration issues, it became clear he was a wanted man.

Jailing him at Southwark Crown Court, Mr Justice Nicol said that the crime represented a "very significant breach of trust".

"You made a very substantial gain even if, as you say, the money has now gone."

– Mr Justice Nicol

He said: "The temptation to commit the offence must have been too great.

"You told the authorities after your arrest that you only received #40,000. Your wife has said it was about #200,000."

Watch Malcolm Robertson's report...