David Williams writes for The Legal Diary, published 16 June 2023. Click here to view the article on the Legal Diary's web page. 

In January 2018 Richard Wakeling fled the UK immediately before a scheduled 12-week trial where he would face allegations of arranging an importation of £8million of amphetamines. It was alleged he had contrived a scheme to transport the drugs, suspended in liquid and hidden amongst a consignment of furniture from Italy.

Officers from the National Crime Agency had begun investigations after Border Force intercepted a consignment of the drugs at the Channel Tunnel in 2016; those investigations revealed Wakeling had orchestrated a previous six similar importations.

He was convicted in his absence and sentenced to a custodial term of some 11 years.

In 2018, the NCA promoted him to their most wanted lists and sought information from the public through Crimestoppers, as well as investigating his movements away from Essex via Heathrow, Glasgow Stranraer and Belfast.

He was arrested in February this year in a Bangkok garage after trying to pick up his car after repairs, and 5 years on the run. He was successfully extradited, has been in the UK since 1st June and has begun to serve his sentence.

The case is a good example of the NCA demonstrating their long arms and deep pockets, as well as their priorities in seeking to disrupt serious organised crime with high financial value.

International co-operation between jurisdictions is increasingly effective for those many countries with positive diplomatic relations, particularly given the cross-border movement of money or drugs involved in increasingly sophisticated international criminality.

The extradition arrangements which facilitate that co-operation are not always particularly sophisticated. The Thai UK treaty was settled in March 1911 and still contemplates surrender by ship. As to the documentation, all it requires is a request passed through diplomatic channels containing a basic statement of the facts surrounding the case, the legal basis for the criminal proceedings or a certified conviction and sufficient evidence proving the identity of the offender (as well as not being for a political or military offence).

The treaty has not been frequently used and for what we call export extradition, a Thai Interpol Police Colonel claimed the extradition of Lee Aldhouse in 2012 to face an allegation of murder was the first use of the treaty to return someone to Thailand in 101 years.

In an area of law which is sometimes overlapped with and blurred by diplomacy, maybe this co-operation is the quid pro quo? In any event, in an age of digital and mobile communication, digital financial trials, combined with ancient treaties, there are not that many places to hide.

David Williams practices in Extradition, Human Rights, Public Law, Sports Law / Regulation and Criminal Defence. He has extensive experience of proceedings before the Criminal, Administrative and Divisional Courts, encompassing appellate work in Crime (CofA and Case Stated), as well as in extradition proceedings and judicial review, with particular expertise in European prison conditions. He is ranked in Chambers and Partners and the Legal 500 in the field of Extradition and International (London Bar).