A former funeral director extradited from Spain after five years on the run has been handed a four-and-a-half year jail term for his involvement in a drug plot foiled in Rishton.
David Stuart, 35, had skipped bail before he had been due to face a trial back in 2005.
He went on to become one of Lancashire’s most wanted before being found on the streets of Barcelona and brought back to this country earlier this year.
Stuart, formerly of Gugal Lane, Hambleton, Poulton-le-Fylde, pleaded guilty to a charge of being concerned in the supply of ecstasy, in July 2004. In October this year he admitted a bail offence, for which he was given 38 weeks prison. The four-and-a-half year term will be added on to the 38 weeks he is already serving.
A co-defendant, Simon Day, was some time ago given a seven-year term for his part in what happened.
Day had maintained that he was a mere go-between between a willing buyer (Stuart) and another man who was a willing supplier.
Preston Crown Court heard that the other man allegedly involved, Paul Padden, was never apprehended and was found dead on a park bench in Amsterdam.
The drug offence concerned the seizure of 20,000 ecstasy tablets, discovered in the boot of a car at the Roebuck Inn car park.
Mr Charles Brown, prosecuting, said Stuart was observed leaving his place of work in full funeral director’s wear and driving a hearse on July 9, 2004. He drove to a house in Blackpool where he changed vehicles, getting into a Vauxhall Corsa.
The defendant then drove to Rishton and met up with Day at an address on Walmsley Street. After a few minutes they left in convoy towards a farm track near Whitewell Road, Accrington.
After that, the defendant returned to the car park of the Roebuck Inn, where he had left his girlfriend. He was then approached by the police.
The car was searched and 20,000 ecstasy tablets were found in a bin liner in the boot. Their street value was about £30,000-£100,000.
Stuart used to have the name Ashworth, but had subsequently changed his name by deedpoll.
Mr Paul O’Brien, defending, said: "The defendant was approached by Day who requested that he deliver a package for him. Stupidly, he agreed.
"His part in the affair was that of a courier. He doesn’t deny he knew what was contained in the package.
"He was, however, unaware of the number or value of the tablets. He took no part in the original planning or the proposed distribution. The part he played was minimal."
He said Stuart had disappeared to Spain before the scheduled trial after he and his family were threatened. At a previous hearing, another barrister representing Stuart said his client had been told, in no uncertain terms at the time, that his life was significantly in danger.
In addition, he had heard on the grapevine that Paul Padden was executed in Holland in December 2005.
In passing sentence, Judge Christopher Cornwall accepted that Stuart’s involvement had been limited. But he could have been letting himself in for a transaction involving an even greater amount than was, in fact, involved.
He added: "Couriers, to a greater or lesser extent, tend to play a vital part in drug dealing transactions. For good reason, the Court of Appeal has said they should be sentenced on only a slightly lower level than the dealers themselves.
"Ecstasy can be life threatening".