FOR decades Spain was a notorious playground for the most depraved criminal masterminds and gangland enforcers.
With no extradition treaty with the UK between 1978 and 1985, the Costa del Crime became a gangsters’ paradise for wily villains like Ronnie Knight, the ex-husband of actress Barbara Windsor, and Freddie Foreman, who was behind the £26 million Brink’s-Mat bullion robbery at Heathrow.
Operation Captura changed all that.
Launched in 2006, two years after the introduction of the European Arrest Warrant, it is a joint initiative between the UK’s National Crime Agency, Spanish authorities and Crimestoppers to capture Brits on the run in Spain.
The message sent is clear: Spain will no longer be a safe haven for expat crooks.
According to Jago Russell of UK charity Fair Trials International, most of the foreign nationals arrested in Spain are actually arrested for minor crimes and extradited back to face the more serious crimes.
On top of Operation Captura’s ‘Most Wanted’ suspects, numerous British fugitives are arrested each year in Spain for serious crimes including murder, child sexual exploitation, fraud, drugs and firearms offences.
Check out our rogues gallery of fugitives flushed out of their hideaways on Spain’s balmy shores.
Kenneth Noye – 1998
Cop killer Kenneth Noye was on licence from a previous jail term when he fatally stabbed Stephen Cameron, 21, on London’s M25 slip road, in 1996.
The brutal murder, following a road rage incident, took place in front of the victim’s 17-year-old fiancee Danielle Cable.
Already well known to police and knowing he would be rapidly caught, Noye immediately fled to France by helicopter and then hired a private jet to fly to Madrid. He travelled on to the Canaries and the Ivory Coast before choosing the Costa del Crime to lie low, going into hiding in Atlanterra, near Zahara de los Atunes.
He soon had a Spanish girlfriend and was posing as ‘Mickey the Builder’. When police eventually traced him, they flew Danielle Cable to Spain to ID him, taking her to a restaurant where he was eating.
‘That’s the man who killed Stephen,’ she whispered.
The story goes that the cops took various tables in the restaurant and let him order his food and drink but before he could take a sip of his caña, they stormed in and arrested him.
The former gangster served nearly 20 years in the UK before being released earlier in June, after it was ruled he was no longer a ‘significant risk to the public’.
He still owns a property in Atlanterra, which has been cared for by his son since his arrest in 2000. He is certainly expected to come back.
Mark Lilley – 2013
Described as one of Merseyside’s most dangerous crooks, the heavily tattooed bodybuilder was arrested at his villa in the Alhaurin de la Torre in July 2013. Footage shows Spanish police storming into the villa and handcuffing the half-naked criminal, who had hidden in a safe room hidden behind a bedroom wardrobe after being alerted to the raid by his three hunting dogs.
Also known as ‘Fatboy’, ‘Mandy’ and ‘Big Vern’, Lilley skipped bail during a trial for drug trafficking in 2000 where he was sentenced to 23 years in jail. He was found guilty in absentia of conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and cannabis, as well as possessing a firearm.
The 41-year-old was hauled out of the villa and helicoptered to Madrid before being extradited back to the UK.
Brian Colin Charrington – 2013
The former car dealer from Middlesbrough was apprehended in 2013 at his fortress villa in Calpe, on the Costa Blanca.
At his trial in 2018, he was found guilty of shipping 192 kilos of cocaine from South America.
Together with his son Ray Charrington, he was also convicted of money laundering. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay €31.2 million in fines. The police impounded assets worth €5 million, including a dozen luxury properties, high-end vehicles, six recreational craft and bank accounts.
He was known as ‘el narco de Wikipedia’ because he apparently wrote and updated his own entry on the website.
Charrington had previously been arrested in Spain in 1997 for allegedly participating in the purchase of four tons of hashish.
Andrew Moran – 2013
In classic Hollywood style, cops burst in as 31-year-old Most Wanted Andrew Moran was relaxing in his shorts by the pool, in Calpe, Alicante, in 2013.
He had been wanted for four years since being found guilty of robbery in 2009, but managed to escape his security guards at the trial, before fleeing to Spain on a false passport.
Originally from Salford, Moran went on the run, travelling across Europe with his girlfriend. He is said to have had a ‘fascination with firearms’, and even changed his appearance with plastic surgery to avoid capture.
In November 2012, he AGAIN escaped from Spanish police after a sophisticated roadblock was set up along one of his regular routes.
Footage of his arrest showed armed officers swooping down on him and tackling him to the floor at his villa.
Moran eventually pleaded guilty to drugs, firearms and road traffic offences while on the run and received a prison sentence of six years and six months.
Christopher Mealey – 2014
Christopher Mealey was held by armed police as he walked down the beach in Marbella in 2014.
Originally from London, the 38-year-old was wanted in connection with importing cocaine worth millions of pounds into the UK.
His father-in-law John Reed and six others have already received prison sentences totalling more than 130 years in connection with the drug smuggling investigation.
Hank Cole, head of international operations for the NCA, said that Mealey’s capture ‘demonstrates the NCA and its partners have the capability to pursue fugitives relentlessly’, he concluded.
David Mather – 2014
David Mather, 57, was held by armed police as he drove through La Linea in 2014.
He had been on the run since being sentenced to 18 years in prison the year before for smuggling heroin into the UK.
Shane Walford – 2015
Walford was convicted for the manslaughter of an off-duty fireman while on leave from the army. The former soldier killed father-of-two Paul Gibbons with a single punch outside a bar in Coventry.
The former boxer was imprisoned for four-and-a-half years and released after serving half of his sentence, but was recalled to prison in August 2013 after breaking the terms of his licence.
The 42-year-old fled the country but was eventually tracked down and arrested in 2015 in the Canary Islands.
Paul Monk – 2015
The 54-year-old fugitive was arrested in 2015 as he oversaw workmen laying a marble patio around the swimming pool at his luxury villa near Benidorm, Alicante.
The Guardia Civil issued dramatic video footage showing armed officers swooping on the property.
Detectives found written notes pertaining to the supply of 997 kilos of cocaine with a street value of £59.8 million, as well as an imitation firearm, 125,000 euros stashed in a plant pot and a fake Slovenian passport.
Originally from Romford, near Essex, Monk fled to Spain in 2013 while on licence from a nine-year sentence for a £3 million cannabis smuggling racket.
He obtained false identity documents and continued to run a £60 million international drug supply network from his home in Spain.
Police said he never left the villa for fear he would be shot dead by rivals, or arrested. He relied on friends to bring him food as he led the life of ‘an authentic fugitive’.
Christy Kinahan – 2010
In 2010 the ‘Dapper Don’ was arrested in his Marbella villa as the alleged mastermind behind a global drugs and weapon business.
Together with his sons Daniel and Christopher, he was banged up in Alhaurin prison under Operation Shovel that caught up with 30 criminals from his gang throughout Europe.
Kinahan is regarded as one of the most intelligent Irish criminals involved in the international drugs trade. He moved to Spain after his release from prison in 2001.
The investigation focused not only on drug-trafficking but also on the money-laundering and property investments in which Kinahan was allegedly involved, many of them in Estepona.
But after being held briefly, Kinahan and his associates were released without charge, as not enough direct evidence was found to link them to specific crimes they could be charged with.
James Quinn – 2016
Irish hitman Quinn was arrested in September 2016 while trying to board a plane in Madrid.
The 36-year-old was accused of gunning down Gary Hutch in Fuengirola in 2015, allegedly on the orders of ganglord Christy Kinahan and sparked by the infamous feud between the Kinahans and the Hutch clan that has seen 18 killings so far.
A yacht and Bentley believed to have been used in the operation were seized in Spain. While in Dublin, gardai found €23,000 in cash, along with computers, phones, false IDs and financial documents relating to property purchases and foreign bank accounts.
Quinn, a former boxer, had already served time behind bars in Ireland for a string of more than 70 convictions.
In 2019, the father-of-one was convicted by a Spanish court and sentenced to a record 22 years in prison.
Jamie Acourt – 2018
The 42-year-old drug smuggler – one of the gang accused of killing black teenager Stephen Lawrence – was arrested in 2018, as he was leaving a gym in Barcelona.
He fled the UK in 2016 after police raided his home in Kent. He had been living in Spain for two years, under the alias ‘Simon Alfonzo’.
At his trial last December, Acourt admitted his role in a multi-million pound cannabis smuggling operation and was sentenced to nine years behind the bars.
Prosecutors believe that Acourt, together with his brother Neil, enlisted family members to the scheme that saw drugs transported between London and the north.
Both brothers were prime suspects in the racist murder of Lawrence back in 1993, but always denied involvement.
In 2012, 19 years after the murder, pals Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally convicted for the murder and jailed for life.
Joseph Lindsay – 2018
The Glaswegian ganglord was arrested in 2018, near South Tenerife airport where he was meeting relatives.
Police had prepared the ambush after discovering that relatives of Londsay had booked flights to spend the New Year in Tenerife.
The 34-year-old was wanted by Scottish authorities for a tally of 29 crimes, punishable by 100 years in prison.
He is accused of membership of a criminal organisation, drugs and weapons trafficking, money laundering, computer crime, homicide and serious assault, kidnapping, unlawful detention and the taking of hostages, as well as armed robbery.
His gang stood out because of the level of violence they employed, including the use of firearms.
He is also accused of resetting a number of cars, attempting to defeat the ends of justice and concealing £1.54 million. Lindsay was jailed in Spain before being extradited to the UK.