Saturday 18 November 2017

Druglord arrested by Spanish police in his panic room

Gerard Couzens

ONE of Britain's most wanted men has been arrested at a luxury villa near Spain's Costa del Sol.

Convicted drugs trafficker Mark Lilley, 41, was detained by armed police after trying to escape capture by hiding inside a panic room he had built.

Tattooed Lilley had been on the run for 13 years since jumping bail in 2000 during his trial for masterminding Stg£1m drugs racket.

He was jailed in his absence for 23 years and went to ground in Spain using a false passport.

Spanish police have released a video of the dramatic moment they seized Lilley, of Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, Liverpool, at his villa in Alhaurin de la Torre near Malaga.

It showed them bringing the heavily-tattooed gangster out of his panic room after scaling his property using ladders and smashing down his front door with a battering ram.

The door to the panic room was hidden in a wardrobe inside a dressing room.

Ex-gas fitter Lilley holed up in the space - where he could see what was going on outside from a computer linked to CCTV cameras - after hearing his dogs barking.

He came out voluntarily after police discovered his hideaway.

A spokesman for Spain's National Police said: "After trying and failing to open the security door to the panic room, he gave himself up after he realised he had no other escape route."

Two men and a woman - whose identities were not disclosed - were inside the house when police stormed it on Saturday.

Ironically the villa where Lilley was arrested is just a stone's throw from a prison where dozens of British criminals have served time.

Last night he was being held at a prison near Madrid after appearing in front of a judge at an extradition hearing.

He opposed extradition during the hearing behind closed doors, a move expected to delay the decision on his future by months.

Bodybuilder Lilley was arrested in 1998 after a two-year operation by the National Crime Squad.

Police wanted him kept in custody until his trial at Bolton Crown Court.

But a High Court judge in London allowed him condition bail.

His trial began in February 2000 and he gave evidence in his defence - then vanished at the same time as a girl clerk from his solicitor's office.

The drugs baron, who dealt in heroin, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, was found guilty of seven charges, including one of having a gun with intent to cause fear of violence.

He is believed to have lived at a house in Alhaurin el Grande near to the town where he was arrested before moving to Tenerife.

The last reported sighting of him was in Playa de las Americas in Tenerife in 2003 by a British police officer on holiday there.

The officer - a former schoolfriend of the fugitive - spotted him behind the wheel of a Mercedes.

Spanish police said today/yesterday (MON) that while he was on the run, Lilley had become an expert in the brutal combat sport Vale Tudo.

A police spokesman said: "He had changed his physical appearance considerably."

Britain now has 40 days to present a formal extradition request to the Spanish authorities.

A separate hearing will then take place so a judge can decide whether to authorize Lilley's extradition or not.

A source at the Audencia Nacional, Spain's Central Criminal Court, said: "The judge can decide to reject the extradition request.

"Detainees who oppose extradition have a defence lawyer at the hearing who put forward arguments against sending them back to the countries where they are wanted.

"The UK now has 40 days to formalize its extradition request.

"Lilley's extradition - if it happens - will probably take months rather than weeks."

The arrest is the second high-profile detention of a British fugitive by Spanish police this year.

In May convicted armed robber Andrew Moran, 31, was nabbed as he watered plants by the swimming pool of his luxury mansion in Calpe on the Costa Blanca.

He is currently being held in a prison near Murcia, south east Spain, while he faces trial for crimes he allegedly committed while on the run in Spain.

Alhaurin de la Torre prison - near to where Lilley was living - has a large expat inmate population.

Brits who have served time there include Costa killer Tony King.

Hundreds of British expats have homes in and around Alhaurin de la Torre, a 30 minute drive inland from Malaga.

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