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Ex-Lawrence murder suspect 'genuinely regrets' role in £4m drugs plot

PUBLISHED: 14:36 24 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:36 24 February 2017

Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence

Archant

Neil Acourt, along with his father-in-law Jack Vose, 63, from Bexley, and family friend Lee Birks, 55 from Orpington, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs

A former suspect in the murder of Stephen Lawrence is a family man who “genuinely regrets” his leading role in a £4 million drugs plot, a court has heard.

Neil Acourt, also known as Neil Stuart, was the “man at the top” of the scheme funnelling huge amounts of cannabis to the North East of England.

The two-year conspiracy involved dozens of 600-mile (965km) round trips from London to the South Shields area, driving drugs up and bringing cash back.

The 41-year-old is facing a substantial sentence at Kingston Crown Court for drug offences.

Acourt was arrested in relation the racist attack on Mr Lawrence, 18, who was stabbed to death by a gang of white men at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.

One of his killers was from Chislehurst, and another from Swanley.

Jonas Milner, defending, said Friday’s sentence will be Acourt’s first substantial period in custody and that he “genuinely regrets” what he did.

“He has previously been in custody but for a short time realistically compared to what the sentence today will be,” he added.

“He is a family man ... his family are his main priority in his life.”

He continued: “He is not someone who is habitually involved in serious crime - he is someone capable of positive good.”

Acourt has two previous convictions but no details about them were revealed in court because they are not drugs-related.

He plans to start his own business in home maintenance and building when he is released, Mr Milner said.

Acourt’s childhood friend James Botton, 45, father-in-law Jack Vose, 63, and family friend Lee Birks, 55, were all recruited into the plot.

Vose was caught with around 220lb (100kg) of cannabis resin in the back of his white van in South Shields in February last year.

Acourt, a father of one, said he is a “normal working-class guy” and got involved to earn extra cash on top of his work as a builder and decorator.

He was a “buffer”, handling more than a dozen bundles of cash, ranging from £15,000 to £40,000 each, in return for 2.5% of the money.

Acourt, of Eltham, south-east London, Vose, of Bexley, Kent, Birks, of Orpington, Kent, and Botton, of Greenwich, south-east London, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply a Class B drug between January 2014 and February 2016.

Paul Beavers, 49, of Backworth, Tyne and Wear, and Daniel Thompson, 28, of South Shields, Tyne and Wear, have also admitted the same charge.

They are all due to be sentenced this afternoon.

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