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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 19:10 GMT
Bidding farewell to the Costa Del Crime
Costa del Sol
Costa del Sol is losing its Costa del Crime image
Home Secretary David Blunkett is in Spain on Friday to sign a new treaty which would speed up the extradition process.

BBC News Online's Jackie Storer looks at why Spain's Costa Del Crime may no longer be the destination of choice for Britain's elite crooks.

It could be the sun, it could be the sangria or it could be its proximity to the UK.

Whatever the reason given by criminals fleeing to Spain, the main one definitely used to be the country's lack of an extradition treaty with Britain.

For years the holiday resorts along the Costa Del Sol became favourite boltholes for a colourful array of British gangsters not willing to face the music.

The key to Spain's reputation as the place to go to escape the long arm of the law was the collapse in 1978 of a 100-year-old extradition treaty that Benjamin Disraeli had a hand in negotiating.

It is not like going somewhere foreign

Una Padel
Centre for Crime and Justice

Many crooks had already set up home there by the time the treaty was revived and the loophole was closed again in 1985, a year before Spain joined the European Union.

Among them was underworld figure Ronnie Knight - former husband of EastEnders actress Barbara Windsor - and Freddie Foreman, an associate of the Krays.

Both eventually returned to serve jail sentences.

Knight came home in a blaze of tabloid headlines in 1995 to serve seven years for his role in the 6m Security Express raid in 1983.

Freddie Foreman
The Krays 'henchman'

Kenneth Noye hid in Spain for several years before his arrest in the south of the country in connection with the road rage murder of Stephen Cameron.

He was jailed for life last year for stabbing to death 21-year-old Mr Cameron on an M25 slip road in May 1996.

But it was the arrest of Clifford Saxe, earlier this year, that gave the clearest signal yet that the shine was coming off Spain's reputation as a haven for criminals on the run

Saxe, 74, alleged to have planned the Security Express raid, had been on the run since January 1984, living mainly in Spain.

Ronnie Knight
Ex-husband of Barbara Windsor
Currently, Britain has 35 outstanding extradition requests with Spain.

Spain is among a list of countries from which Britain is seeking to bring back suspected criminals to stand trial in London.

One man is in the process of being extradited in connection with last year's Dome diamonds raid.

Una Padel, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College, London, said Spain's popularity as a bolthole was simple.

She told BBC News Online: "Spain is a country where many Brits have been on holiday and there is quite a good access to things that British people like to drink and eat. It is not like going somewhere foreign.

"Up until recently, it had an added attraction for criminals because there was no extradition treaty with Britain.

"When a lot of criminals gather there, it becomes a community and the criminal feels like he is among 'his own'."

'Drug trafficking'

Spain's proximity to the North African drug trade and the nightclubs of the Balearic Islands also meant there were profitable drug smuggling and dealing possibilities.

Ms Padel said Spain was also favoured by fugitives for the same reason it was the first destination of choice for working class people in the 1960s and 1970s.

"It's hot. It's easy to get there and close enough to the UK for family and friends to visit," she said.

Ms Padel said there were still many countries without extradition treaties with Britain but many of these dealt harshly with criminals.

"I cannot see many British villains wanting to live in a country where they mete out physical punishment," she said.

See also:

14 Apr 00 | UK
M25 murderer jailed
01 Oct 00 | UK
Reggie Kray dies
30 Dec 00 | Europe
Costa del Crime no more?
22 Nov 01 | UK Politics
UK and Spain to hold extradition talks
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