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Former Stephen Lawrence murder suspect jailed over drugs plot

A former suspect in the murder of Stephen Lawrence has been jailed for more than six years over a £4 million drugs plot.

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

The 41-year-old, also known as Neil Stuart, was described as the "man at the top" of the scheme funnelling huge amounts of cannabis to the North East of England.

Acourt, of Eltham, south-east London, was jailed for six years and three months at Kingston Crown Court on Friday for conspiracy to supply a Class B drug.

The judge Recorder Paul Clements described him as being at a very high level in the plot, with others reporting to him.

He added: "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.

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

He described the plot as a pre-planned and concerted effort to move substantial amounts of cannabis "that in any estimation would have kept the people of the Newcastle area in spliffs for many a long day".

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.

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

The judge added: "Just look at you all - all six of you - all thoroughly ashamed of yourselves, all having ruined your lives by your involvement in this."

He continued: "There are people who can have a dramatically adverse reaction to smoking cannabis.

"At the very least it preys upon inadequate people who are hopeless and helpless, who don't have the necessary financial means to support their need for the drugs."

Acourt, a father of one, 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.

Jonas Milner, defending, said he "genuinely regrets" what he did and is a family man.

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

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.

Vose, of Bexley, Kent, and Botton, of Greenwich, south-east London, were each jailed for four years and nine months.

Paul Beavers, 49, of Backworth, Tyne and Wear, was jailed for three years and four months and Daniel Thompson, 28, of South Shields, Tyne and Wear, for four years and two months.

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

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

In 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted at the Old Bailey of murdering Mr Lawrence and jailed for life.

Acourt was also arrested but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) formally discontinued the case against him after a meeting with the senior investigating officer.

Norris and Acourt were jailed for 18 months in 2002 for a racist attack on off-duty black policeman Gareth Reid.

Norris hurled a drink at the officer from a car and shouted "nigger" while Acourt drove the vehicle at him during the attack in Eltham, less than a mile from where Mr Lawrence was murdered.

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