Palma/Madrid.—Last week Mark Lilley was arrested in his villa near Malaga.
Mark Lilley, aka “Fatboy”, “Mandy” and “Big Vern”, a 41-year-old drug dealer from Merseyside, was arrested after more than 12 years on the run. The whole operation, from the scaling of the front gates of his villa in Alhaurin de la Torre near Malaga, to the exposure of his en suite lair, was captured on film. Although trained in the Brazilian martial art of vale tudo (which means “anything goes”), and guarded by three large dogs, Lilley went quietly.

The arrest came two months after another Briton on the run, Andrew Moran, was grabbed by his pool in Calpe on Spain's Costa Blanca. That arrest was also filmed, although Moran disobligingly spoiled his close-up by vaulting over a wall and pulling his T-shirt over his head before he was finally caught.

He had escaped four years earlier from Burnley crown court, where he was convicted in his absence of conspiring to commit armed robbery. Lilley was the 51st criminal on the 65-strong Operation Captura wanted list - drawn up by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) - to have his collar felt on the Costas. But to some it seems strange that British criminals still opt for Spanish hideaways. Have they never seen Sexy Beast? “The attraction for Spain is still there, as there is a huge expat British population,” said Dave Allen, head of the fugitives unit at Soca. But there are other European options. “The language is not too much of an issue in the Netherlands either - the Dutch speak very good English and are culturally similar to the British, so it's easy to fit in.” But some are now looking further afield: “The places we're seeing them go to now are Thailand, certainly, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.” He said that 133 fugitives were arrested abroad at the request of Britain last year. “The people we put on the Crimestoppers website - it's not a top 10 most wanted list; that's an American thing - are the ones seen to be the most dangerous. They are wanted for violent crimes, predatory sex offences and the like.” The arrests of Lilley and Moran represent something of a coup for Soca, helped by the fact that they were filmed and thus received maximum publicity. Another high-profile fugitive was apprehended in Athens on the same day as Lilley, but the Greek police did not film it, so it received less coverage. Kevin Hanley, from Fulham, west London, wanted in connection with drug dealing, was caught as he tucked into sausage, eggs and soda bread in front of the Lions v Wallabies game at Molly Malone's pub in the suburb of Glyfada. The police knew he was a rugby fan and had staked out the limited number of places in Athens where the big game could be watched.

Jason Coghlan, a former armed robber from Manchester who served time with Lilley as a category A prisoner in Strangeways, now runs a Marbella law firm, JaCogLaw, which advises ex-pats who are in trouble with the authorities. Its website boasts an impressive series of quotations from Aristotle to Gladstone, although the one probably most likely to catch the eye of potential clients is from 18th-century jurist William Blackstone: “Better that 10 guilty men escape justice than than one innocent man goes to prison.”


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