'Florida Phil' jailed for raid: Six-year sentence for pounds 1m airport haul

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER security guard 'Florida' Phil Wells, 48, once Britain's most wanted man, was jailed for six years yesterday for stealing nearly pounds 1m from Heathrow airport.

Wells insisted: 'I am innocent. There has been a miscarriage of justice.' But Judge David Miller told Wells at Isleworth Crown Court, west London, that although others were involved in the 1989 theft he played a 'major role'.

'It was you that had the responsibility of taking this currency from the aircraft to the secure premises. The money did not arrive. It disappeared and so far as is known has never been seen since by any legitimate person.'

He told Wells, who was convicted last month by a jury which rejected his defence that he was forced into crime by thugs, that he had 'no possible excuse'.

The judge said that what happened during Wells's four years on the run would probably never be fully known. 'There can be no doubt that you were living on the proceeds of this theft.'

Wells, of Hounslow, west London, was working as a pounds 2.50-an-hour guard for a west London security firm when he stole pounds 928,000 in foreign currency in July 1989. The two-week trial was told Wells collected the money from a Portuguese aircraft at Heathrow and disappeared. Police launched an international hunt, believing that he was headed for Florida - while he hid in Essex.

Two months later Wells, with a new identity, went to Malta, where he was kept regularly supplied with large sums of money by London accomplices who have never been caught. While on the run he met Olga, a Russian teenage gymnast, in Yugoslavia. He told her that he was a wealthy Essex greengrocer and made her his third wife in the former Soviet state of Uzbekistan.

But then the flow of cash from London stopped. Desperate for money, Wells flew to Britain early last year and tried to sell his story to the Sun for pounds 25,000. But police were tipped off and he was arrested in east London.

Wells told the court that his health was failing and he had problems with his heart, stomach and memory.

Three men are awaiting trial on charges in connection with events on the night Wells was arrested.

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