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They called him “Fast Eddie” and he certainly spent like a man in a hurry. He began his 20 years on the run in the United States with a hefty slice of a £1.2m fortune from a security van theft; he ended it virtually penniless and earning $14 an hour as a broadband repair man.
The less than glamorous reality of life as a fugitive from justice was laid bare on Tuesday, after a well-planned heist on a Securicor van in 1993 resulted in debts, family betrayal and - finally - a five-year jail term for Eddie Maher, after two decades of running from state to state in the US.
Security van driver Maher, 57, was wanted by Suffolk police after disappearing during a round of deliveries to banks and a post office in Felixstowe in 1993.
While his work partner was inside a branch of Lloyds, carrying out a routine delivery, Maher drove off with their van and the £1.2m cash inside.
He was later seen with two accomplices loading a getaway car with bags of cash. Although the ripped-off epaulettes from his Securicor uniform and his burnt-out old car were found in the hours after the theft, Maher was not seen in Britain for nearly another 20 years.
Having packed off his partner, former air hostess Deborah Brett, and their young child Lee on a flight to Boston in the US state of Massachusetts just days before the robbery, Maher followed shortly afterwards with an estimated £200 000 share of the proceeds from the crime.
Police believe he used his brother Michael's passport to fly to Florida with an accomplice and met up with his family and lived with them under at least two assumed names until he was arrested last year. He successfully shook off the manhunt. While British officers travelled to the West Indies and Cyprus after reported sightings of Maher, he had quietly assumed the name of Stephen King and embarked on the first of a series of property purchases.
However, his assumed name worked against him. Later questioned by police, one neighbour remembered buying a house from the Englishman with the same name as the horror novelist, police said.
Using the proceeds of the robbery, Maher, aka Stephen King, bought a house with mountain views for $120 000 in the comfortable Colorado town of Woodland Park, where he set up home with his family.
He also grew a beard and wore over-size spectacles to change his appearance.
Maher - a former soldier and publican with a history of racking up debts - kept moving, building a ranch on an 80-acre site elsewhere in Colorado, before selling it for profit and moving to New Hampshire. Southwark Crown Court heard yesterday that to keep up with his high-spending lifestyle, he worked as an HGV driver and a technician for a cable company while he moved from place to place. But in the end, he stopped running and the money ran out.
The court heard that Maher, who became a father for the second time while on the run, was finally run to ground after his true identity was revealed by his new daughter-in-law. His eldest son Lee, now aged 23, won a reported $100 000 from a lottery scratchcard in the United States. The girlfriend of Lee's best friend dumped the friend and set up with Lee; “within a short space of time [she] was so devoted to Lee that she married him,” said Maher's counsel David Nathan QC.
“When the money ran out she did a lot of research on the name Maher and realised he couldn't go back to this country because of the theft back in 1993,” said Mr Nathan. “She heard there was a reward and went to the federal authorities.”
Lee Maher and his wife are now divorcing.
Eddie Maher realised the net was closing in on him when he went to a local police station where he was then living in Ozark, Missouri, to bail his son who was being held for a driving offence.
He was told by one of the officers of a rumour that he was wanted for the 1993 security van theft, the court heard. Maher, then living in rented accommodation, took his family to a hotel with the plan of fleeing again but had a change of heart, the court heard.
He took his younger son Mark to school the next day and was arrested at their home by US authorities for immigration offences and for illegal possession of four guns under an assumed name. He voluntarily returned to the UK to stand trial in July 2012 and yesterday pleaded guilty to the 20-year-old theft.
“This man has made a mess of his life but what concerns him more is the mess he has caused to the ones he loves, Deborah and the two children,” said Mr Nathan.
Maher and Deborah Brett had a Las Vegas wedding, although it is unclear whether this marriage has any legal standing.
Jailing him for five years, Mr Justice Nicol told him: “It is plain that that this theft was well planned and several of you were involved in this joint enterprise.
“Your wife or partner has stood by you. She and your two sons will be pained by the sentence that I will have to pass.
“But it is unfortunately a common occurrence that those who commit crimes cause pain and distress to those who are close to them.”
Maher, with close cropped receding grey hair and wearing a grey suit, turned and winked to his wife and two children sitting at the back of the court at Southwark Crown Court and mouthed “I love you” before he was taken down to serve his sentence.
He faces a confiscation order in a hearing at a later date.
Speaking outside court, Detective Inspector Giles said: “Since his arrest, he has displayed no remorse for what he did - but I get the impression he has spent 20 years looking over his shoulder and hoping the law would not catch up with him.”
Maher is the only person to have been convicted for the security van theft.
Three people - including his partner and sister - are on bail, while his brother Michael is believed to be in Spain, the court heard. - The Independent