Drug baron John Clark jailed for 25 years

Kingpin lived lavish life until he was caught in Morocco last year

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For a man who kept £77,000 in a couple of shoeboxes at home and owned a string of expensive properties across Europe, drug baron John Clark was only ever going to flee from justice in the heated driver’s seat of his luxury Bentley Continental.

As his empire came crashing down and henchmen were arrested with millions of pounds worth of drugs, Clark, 36, took the Eurotunnel from Folkestone and drove south before going to ground in Tenerife. He was finally arrested after a five-month hunt in Morocco in June last year, and was returned to Britain where he was jailed for 25 years today.

The jailing of Clark marked the final chapter of his once-successful Bury-centred operation which turned over more than £11m in nine months, and provided him with what Judge Timothy Clayson described as “beautiful houses, rental properties, dressing in designer clothes and owning expensive cars”.

Within three years, Clark, a father of two, bought a number of luxury cars including Range Rover Sports for himself and his wife, an Audi RS3 worth £44,000, and a £120,000 Audi R8 Spyder. Soon after, he added a Mercedes to the collection.

“Most of the gang enjoyed the trappings of wealth that most hard-working people can only imagine, but they would have known from the start that even the biggest empires can crumble,” said Detective Inspector Lee Griffin, of Greater Manchester Police.

Clark’s network started to break up during an investigation into a Birmingham-based group of criminals laundering money abroad for Clark and other gangs.

Investigators watched Clark hand over a bag containing more than £113,000 at a service station on the M6 for laundering. When officers raided his £1.2m farm in Waterfoot, Lancashire, they found the cash in the boxes, details of his property portfolio, and a coded ledger that detailed drug sales.

He was charged with money laundering but fled the country before his trial last year as members of the gang were picked up by police as they imported cocaine, heroin and amphetamines from the continent.

After Clark was caught in Morocco, he spent 10 months sharing a cell with up to 60 men before he was extradited to Britain, where he admitted drugs and money laundering charges. The authorities are trying to claw back his profits from dealing and have identified nine properties in Britain. Inquiries are continuing into his European property interests.

Jim Cook, of the National Crime Agency, said: "Drug traffickers need to launder their profits but doing it can be their Achilles heel. By getting between them and their money they are unable to fund their lifestyles or invest in further drug deals.”