The strange case of the drug baron's adoring press

Why is Curtis Warren written up as a modern-day Scarlet Pimpernel when he is always being caught?

Curtis Francis Warren is a very wealthy man. He has homes on three continents, a yacht, his own biographer, looks much younger than his 46 years, and once even made it on to the Sunday Times Rich List. "A major property player and trader in the North-west, where he is a well-known figure", read the citation. Warren did not make his money from real estate. He made it from cocaine. And heroin. And cannabis. And ecstasy. And from the poor suckers who wrecked their lives by taking them.

Not that you would guess this from some of the press he's had down the years, up to and including that which accompanied his conviction last Wednesday for plotting to flood Jersey with cannabis. For Warren has long been coloured by that curious phenomenon, gangster chic – the glamorising and mythologising of those the rest of us deem, well, toe-rags.

Partly, it's a matter of headlines, such as "The Mr Bigs' Mr Big" (The Observer, 13 July 1997). Partly, it's the nicknames: "Cocky", they call him in his native Toxteth, and "Cocky" he is to his chroniclers, a band of men who also relish his one-time Interpol designation "Target One". And it's partly the way the media have competed to big-up his fortune, the top estimate stands at a ludicrous £460m.

The press makes him sound like a cross between Moriarty and the Scarlet Pimpernel. The Daily Mail, for instance, on Thursday: "... never takes unnecessary risks... does not waste money on gambling or women... doesn't smoke, drink, or take drugs... never commits anything to paper... never forgets... changes his mobile daily... never loses his cool... mind never stops... fearsome reputation...."

So, a super-brained mastermind, the elusive scourge of law enforcement? Not quite, as a chronology of his convictions and detentions shows. They began, in 1974, shortly after he abandoned school at the age of 11, with the theft of a car (juvenile court, supervision order); at 13, he graduated to the magistrates' court, for burglary; at 15, he got three months in a detention centre; before rounding off his teens with borstal for assaulting police, an arrest during the Toxteth riots and, finally, in 1982, after blackmailing a prostitute and her client, two years for assaulting the woman.

In 1983, he got five years for armed robbery, then took up drug trafficking. He forged a trusted relationship with the South American Cali cartel and began to make serious money, enjoying his longest spell at large. That lasted until 1992, when he was nicked for trying to bring into Britain £150m of cocaine inside ingots of lead.

A year later he walked free on a technicality. He returned to Liverpool, where the drug gangs began sorting out a few differences. The feuding saw 10 fatal shootings, and, another victim so set about with machetes that the post-mortem took seven hours to work out what went where. Warren moved to Holland, for his health, buying a home near Schiphol airport. After three years, Warren – very much a marked, followed and surveillanced man – made another error. A plan to import £125m worth of drugs through ingots, as in 1993, was rumbled, and one night in 1996 – much to his surprise and that of his Ukrainian prostitute companion – Dutch special services roared in with stun grenades. He was convicted and served 11 years. (He would have got out sooner, except that, during an exercise-yard fracas, he kicked a fellow inmate to death.)

He was released in 2007 and began planning the Jersey job. Within a month he was rearrested. He will be sentenced on Christmas Eve, and is expected to get about 14 years. By then he will be 60, having spent 30 years behind bars. So, there's not much reason to be cocky, is there "Cocky"? You are our kind of master criminal: slightly colourful, and with a talent for getting caught.