North East Regional Special Operations Unit

Stephen Lawrence suspect Neil Acourt jailed over £4m drug plot

News / February 24

Through a joint operation between the NERSOU and the Metropolitan Police Service, a man who was previously a suspect in the Stephen Lawrence murder case has been jailed for more than six years over a £4m drugs plot.

Neil Acourt, of Eltham, south-east London, was described as the "man at the top" of a scheme moving huge amounts of cannabis to the North East.

The 41-year-old, also known as Neil Stuart, was arrested in relation to the racist attack on Mr Lawrence in 1993.

He was jailed for six years and three months for conspiracy to supply drugs.

'Spliffs'

Five other men were also sentenced at Kingston Crown Court over the plot, while another man who was caught with 100kg of cannabis resin in his van was jailed at a previous hearing.

The two-year conspiracy involved numerous journeys from London to the South Shields area to deliver drugs and collect cash.

The judge Recorder Paul Clements said Acourt had been at a very high level in the plot with others reporting to him.

He said the conspiracy involved a concerted effort to move large amounts of cannabis "that in any estimation would have kept the people of the Newcastle area in spliffs for many a long day".

'Believe the negativity'

Acourt was described as a "buffer", handling over a dozen bundles of cash, ranging from £15,000 to £40,000 each, in return for 2.5% of the money.

Jonas Milner, defending, said Acourt "genuinely" regretted what he did, adding he was now a family man.

"Perhaps one of the problems with you is that, for various reasons, you have heard too much negativity about you and begun to believe the negative publicity about you," Recorder Clements said.

"Perhaps it's time to walk away from that aspect of your personality and whatever or whoever it is controlling those parts."

Image copyright PA

Image caption Neil Acourt was one of the five men suspected of killing Stephen Lawrence

Acourt's co-defendants were also handed substantial jail terms for their roles in the conspiracy.

They included Acourt's childhood friend James Botton, 45, father-in-law Jack Vose, 63, and family friend Lee Birks, 55.

Vose, from Bexley, Kent - who was caught with the cannabis resin in the back of his white van in South Shields last February - and Botton, of Greenwich, were both sentenced to four years and nine months.

Paul Beavers, 49, of Backworth, Tyne and Wear was sentenced to three years and four months; while Daniel Thompson, 28, of South Shields was sentenced to four years and two months.

Birks, of Orpington, Kent, had his sentence postponed for medical reports.

All six had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply a Class B drug between January 2014 and February 2016.

© NERSOU 2014