- Video report by ITV News correspondent Paul Davies
A man who was suspected in the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence has been jailed for nine years for heading a £3 million drugs plot.
Jamie Acourt, 42, from Eltham, south-east London, pleaded guilty at Kingston Crown Court on Thursday to being a kingpin in the two-year conspiracy to sell cannabis resin.
His 43-year-old brother Neil Acourt has already been jailed for more than six years over the scheme which moved about 750kg of the drug with an estimated street value of around £3 million.
Jamie Acourt spent more than two years on the run, living in Spain under the alias Simon Alfonzo, until his arrest in May.
Prosecutors believe both were ringleaders who enlisted family members to the scheme that saw drugs transported between London and South Shields, Tyne and Wear.
Jailing Jamie Acourt on Friday Judge Peter Lodder QC said he was clearly a ringleader of the conspiracy.
Judge Lodder said: “That you played a leading role is beyond doubt.
“I have been urged to bear in mind that following the arrest of (Darren) Woods you withdrew from the conspiracy and that the conspiracy continued without appointing a new leader, suggesting your role was not crucial.
“I must, however, observe that the system was well established by that stage.”
Judge Lodder said that although Neil Acourt had been convicted in connection to a greater amount of cannabis, he would not use his sentence as a benchmark.
He did give Jamie Acourt a 10% discount despite him pleading guilty after the jury was sworn in and the proceedings were under way.
He added: “I make clear my view that the points selected by the recorder in that exercise do not adequately reflect the criminality for which I have to pass sentence.
“This may appear to be unfair, but in my judgment the appropriate sentence should not be reduced simply to demonstrate parity with the leniency shown to those co-conspirators.
“That is not the proper exercise of justice.”
Both Acourts were arrested after the racist stabbing of black teenager Mr Lawrence by a gang of white men in Eltham in 1993, but have always denied involvement.
Jurors were earlier told of the historical allegation and warned they should solely consider the drug trial evidence.
Jamie Acourt, appearing in court sporting a man bun and beard, had denied conspiracy to supply a class B drug between January 2014 and February 2016, but changed his plea after the prosecution opened its case.
The basis of his plea was that it was agreed with the prosecution he was involved in the conspiracy to supply between January 1 2014 and May 2 2015.
He fled the country after police raided a home he lived in with his partner and their two children in Bexley, south-east London, in February 2016.
He was arrested by armed officers as he left a gym in Barcelona on May 4 this year and extradited to Britain.
His brother was sentenced to six years and three months in February last year over the same conspiracy.
Recorder Paul Clements suggested one of Neil Acourt’s problems was that he had “heard too much negativity about you and begun to believe the negative publicity about you”.
The plot, he added, would “have kept the people of the Newcastle area in spliffs for many a long day”.
It involved dozens of 600-mile round trips from London to South Shields, driving drugs up and bringing back cash.
The court heard the dealers moved more than 750kg, with the prosecution saying Jamie Acourt was involved in the supply of about 500kg with a street value of about £2.2 million.
Michael Holland, defending, said this amounted to about £500,000 at wholesale.
He added: “It’s a mitigating factor he withdrew from the conspiracy, albeit in circumstances where one of the co-conspirators has recently been arrested.
“He is a tradesman and builder and has sought contracts, some of which he has been successful in attaining.
“With his name it is not always easy to get the work he might otherwise get. The financial temptation must have been a real factor.”
Seven men have now been convicted or found guilty over the conspiracy.
They include the stepfather of Jamie Acourt’s partner, Lee Birks, 57, of Orpington, south-east London, and Neil Acourt’s 65-year-old father-in-law Jack Vose, of Bexley.
The case against Mr Woods was dismissed.
In 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted at the Old Bailey of murdering Mr Lawrence and jailed for life.
Both Acourts were arrested shortly after the murder but neither was convicted.