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Fugitive Jonathan Nicholls arrested at Rochester airport

By KentOnline reporter

A fugitive drug dealer caught when a 'suspicious' helicopter landed at an airport in Kent has been jailed for six months.

Jonathan Nicholls had been on the run for three years when he flew in from the Continent onto the runway in Rochester on July 31 this year.

Special branch officers had been alerted about the inbound flight and met the aircraft at about 1pm, a court heard.

Nicholls was arrested at Rochester Airport. Stock picture
Nicholls was arrested at Rochester Airport. Stock picture

The 36-year-old arrived with his pilot and both handed over their passports as the helicopter was being refuelled.

But having claimed he was on his way to visit a friend and a festival on the Isle of Wight, Nicholls made a run for it.

Officers gave chase and he was eventually arrested hiding behind a mound on nearby wasteland.

He told them: "Ok, fair cop. I just want to go home."

Checks revealed the dad of three had absconded from HMP Kirkham in Lancashire on July 8 2015 where he was serving a nine-year sentence for conspiracy to supply class A drugs.

Nicholls was enjoying open conditions at the category D prison and was on a day release work placement cleaning oil tankers when he failed to return.

Maidstone Crown Court was told he fled just six months before he was due for permanent release, having been on remand since 2011.

But a judge rejected his claim that his decision to 'run' was a result of pressure from other inmates to smuggle drugs and phones inside.

Nicholls, of Hargate Road, Kirky, Liverpool, pleaded guilty to being unlawfully at large having been released on temporary licence.

Jailing him, Judge David Griffith-Jones QC ordered that the six months' imprisonment be served consecutively to the remainder of his nine-year prison term.

However, this is likely to be just the six months Nicholls had left to serve before he went on the run, meaning he faces just another year behind bars.

The judge told him: "This is a very serious offence made all the more serious by the breach of trust involved and the fact you remained at large for such a long period of time.

"I don't accept that any pressure you were under from fellow inmates provides any real excuse or mitigation in the circumstances."

Maidstone Crown Court. Stock picture (4143995)
Maidstone Crown Court. Stock picture (4143995)

Judge Griffith-Jones added that while it could be argued Nicholls had not committed any other crimes while at large, he would have been 'doing everything in his power to avoid the attention of the authorities'.

The court heard that on being met at the airport, Nicholls confirmed his name and gave his passport.

Prosecutor Keith Yardy said: "The defendant explained he was off to the Isle of Wight to meet a friend and attend a festival.

"The helicopter was being refuelled while police spoke to the occupants. Nicholls first of all walked away and then broke into a sprint towards the toilet block and eventually outside the airport onto wasteland.

"Police alerted colleagues who saw the defendant hiding behind a mound. When he saw an officer approaching he immediately said 'Ok, fair cop. I just want to go home' and allowed himself to be arrested."

On the day he absconded, Nicholls had been working for Liverpool-based Kennedy Industrial Services and was expected to return to prison by 8pm.

He was originally jailed in January 2013 and by 2015 was serving at HMP Kennet in the Sefton area of Merseyside, principally housing inmates coming to the end of their sentences.

But due to pending closure, he was transferred to HMP Kirkham where Nicholls was in fact one of very few prisoners subject to temporary release, the court was told.

"He was going out working every day cleaning oil tankers for an industrial cleaning company," said Richard Furlong, defending.

"It being the way with prisoners these days, he came under some pressure to bring back drugs, phones and this sort of thing.

"He had basically had enough of that pressure and wasn't going to bring that sort of thing in.

"The other prisoners were getting unhappy and in consequence he took the decision not to return."

Mr Furlong said that had now 'cost' Nicholls, believed to be currently held at HMP Elmley in Sheppey, the 'enjoyment of open conditions' for the remainder of his time behind bars.

He is also 'a long way' from his wife and three children living on Merseyside, he added.

"In that way he is already being punished for what he has done," said Mr Furlong.

The court heard the pilot and a third man arrested at the airport on suspicion of assisting an offender are still subject to police investigation.

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