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Britain's Pablo Escobar will move from prison into a £2m penthouse

How Britain’s Pablo Escobar will stroll out of his prison cell straight into a £2m penthouse: He spent 25 years behind bars after his £200m drug-dealing empire was smashed… but ‘Cocky Watchman’ Curtis Warren looks set to have the last laugh

  • A £2 million Liverpool penthouse will be new home to drugs baron Curtis Warren
  • Warren is currently serving prison time but will be a free man from next month
  • In 1996, a Commando-style raid on his Dutch lair brought down his empire 
  • The Mail discovered that he will be living rent-free in the city-centre penthouse

Curtis Francis Warren reputedly made a £200 million fortune and was ranked alongside illustrious figures such as theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn and the Marquess of Lothian on the Sunday Times Rich List

Amid Liverpool’s redeveloped docklands there is a vacant £2 million penthouse apartment with stylish interiors and fabulous views of the Mersey estuary.

Three weeks from now it will become the home of one of the city’s most successful businessmen. 

A man who rose from the backstreets of nearby Toxteth, once synonymous with riots, crime and poverty, and transformed his chosen field with his inventive brand of entrepreneurship.

Along the way, he reputedly made a £200 million fortune and was ranked alongside illustrious figures such as theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn and the Marquess of Lothian on the Sunday Times Rich List.

So, who is about to move into the swish apartment? None other than Curtis Francis Warren, who once dealt in misery and death, trafficking vast quantities of heroin, cocaine, and cannabis into Britain from all corners of the globe.

Until 1996, when a Commando-style raid on his Dutch lair brought down his empire, his notoriety was such that he was compared with Pablo Escobar, the legendary Colombian cocaine king.

When the FBI identified the dozen or so overlords together creaming £500 billion a year from organised crime, Warren’s name was there. 

British Customs investigators referred to him as Target One. Liverpool’s teenagers wore T-shirts embossed with his menacing face.

For all but a few weeks of the past quarter-century, however, the Liverpudlian baron — whose imperiousness and meticulous attention to detail gave rise to his nickname Cocky Watchman — has languished in jail.

The Liverpudlian baron who had an affair with a prison officer (pictured: left) will be released from prison next month

In Holland, he was handed a 12-year stretch for importing £75 million worth of cocaine, plus four extra years for the manslaughter of a fellow inmate, whom he killed in an exercise yard brawl. 

Weeks after his release, he was sentenced to 13 years for smuggling £1 million of cannabis into Jersey.

Later, he received ten more years for refusing to comply with a profits of crime confiscation order. 

It required him to repay the UK authorities £198 million — the staggering sum he was calculated to have stashed in secret bank accounts or laundered by buying property across Europe.

Next month, however, having served every day of his latest sentence, Cocky, will be free.

And if there is a spring in his step as he emerges from HM Prison Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire, we shouldn’t be surprised.

For, as I have discovered, he has blindsided the forces of law and order by pulling off yet another masterstroke.

In Holland, Warren was handed a 12-year stretch for importing £75 million worth of cocaine, plus four extra years for the manslaughter of a fellow inmate, whom he killed in an exercise yard brawl

On the surface, 59-year-old Warren’s future appears to be bleak. For the first five years after his release his every movement will be monitored by the National Crime Agency and his lifestyle will be dictated by a 30-page serious crime prevention order, with some of the most stringent conditions imposed on a released convict. 

He will not even be allowed to get into someone’s car without giving a day’s notice to his handler.

If he wants to travel, the notice period is seven days, with the provision of a full itinerary and explanation of the visit’s purpose. 

He can only possess one mobile phone, to be made available for inspection on request; his internet use will be so restricted that he will be banned from using WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Warren has been linked to Colombian drug cartels and called Britain’s Pablo Escobar (his mugshot from 1977 when he was arrested in Medellin) after the notorious drug criminal

The draconian order forces him to provide details of all assets or property valued at more than £1,000. 

Since the authorities are still looking to recoup at least a portion of his supposed £198 million estate, possessions worth more than that would surely be seized. 

Any breach of these restrictions could see him returned to prison.

Cocky has found a sly way around the problem. Not for him the indignities of subsisting in some squalid low-rent digs or hostel, a fate that befalls many released long-term prisoners. 

Not for him shopping for bargains at Poundland, like his former lieutenant Stephen Mee (who told me this week how his probation officer laughed on phoning him while he was in the cut-price store).

Even after 25 years, Warren still has wealthy friends on his old Merseyside stamping ground. 

And, as the Mail has discovered, in a gesture of largesse one of their number has offered to install him rent-free in the stunning city-centre penthouse.

The crime boss, whose penchant for flashy cars is at odds with his otherwise modest tastes, will also be given the keys to a nice ‘motor’, we have been told. 

So long as he provides his handler with all the details about the car, this won’t contravene the order. Nor will his gratis usage of the apartment.

Mee is amazed that some rich benefactor is willing to be linked with him. ‘If you are someone with lots of money and you give gifts to Curtis, the police will be crawling all over you,’ says the former trafficker, who was released on licence a decade ago after serving half of his 30-year term and is now an artist of growing renown.

‘I don’t know many people who would do that [provide the penthouse]. I think most people would be scared to go anywhere near Curtis now.’

According to a bestselling book, Cocky: The Rise And Fall Of Curtis Warren, Mancunian Mee, 64, might have another reason to avoid his ex-boss. In it, an investigator claims Mee made a pact with the Colombians whereby Warren would be executed and he would become top dog. Mee tells me this is untrue.

Warren’s imminent release poses more pressing questions. What will he do when he’s out? Apart, that is, from visiting his adored mother, Sylvia, now in her 80s and in failing health, and other family members, including a daughter born soon after he was jailed.

Will he have the chutzpah to try to regain his mantle under microscopic scrutiny? Will he attempt to recoup whatever remains of his fortune? Are there old scores he might wish to settle?

In many ways, Warren’s story mirrors that of Escobar, though the Colombian’s former stronghold in Medellin is 5,000 miles distant from Liverpool. 

Both men abused their considerable intelligence and eschewed respectable upbringings for the thrills and rewards of the underworld.

Warren’s late father, also Curtis, was a merchant seaman and met his mother, the daughter of a shipyard boiler attendant, when he docked at Liverpool.

Warren’s older brother, Ramon, played chess for Wales, his sister Maria studied maths and physics at university, and Warren himself was bright with a photographic memory (useful later, when he retained the details of drug deals and contacts’ phone numbers).

However, school bored him, and he seldom attended his compre-hensive, preferring the life of a street ‘scally’.

Warren (pictured arriving at The Royal Court in St Hellier, Jersey) after he was found guilty of a £1million drug smuggling plot by a jury

Aged 12, he stole a car, though he could barely see over the steering wheel. Thereafter, he was a regular in the juvenile courts, graduating from picking pockets to burglary.

By 16, his violent streak emerged. He was convicted of headbutting and punching two police officers.

Though he claims never to have harmed women, he attacked a teenage prostitute who refused to hand over her takings and a mother who tried to stop him robbing a security guard at gunpoint.

By his early 20s, he was a bullet-headed bouncer and saw the profits to be made from selling amphetamines and cocaine to young clubbers. 

The speed with which he made the leap from low-level pusher to major importer was phenomenal, though it helped that his girlfriend’s father was a big-time criminal.

He began travelling to Amsterdam, the hub of Europe’s drugs trade, and won the trust of the Cali Cartel’s European representative, Mario Halley.

While other British traffickers were content to act as middle-men, Warren offered to deal directly with the Colombians — an audacious gambit that quickly made him a multi-millionaire and sealed his pioneering reputation.

However, as he was of mixed race, and racism was endemic within the Colombian gang, he avoided travelling to the South American country, using the burly Stephen Mee as his emissary. 

The pair first met in 1991, in Strangeways prison in Manchester and were reunited after Mee escaped from a prison van and fled to Holland.

This week, he recalled the astonishing scenes that greeted him on his Colombian forays. On one occasion he was spirited to the ranch of a corrupt senator in the Cali hierarchy, passing through ten armed checkpoints before reaching a magnificent villa with its own bullring.

Hundreds of thousands had been spent to stage a dazzling fiesta, for which a top Spanish matador was flown in. Champagne flowed, stunning girls draped themselves around the gangsters, and a tiger and chimpanzee roamed the grounds.

 The opulence was mind-blowing, he says. But, aware that ‘one false move would have seen me dead’, he dared not drink or fornicate. Like Warren, he always operated with monkish discipline.

Indeed, he says the life of a gangster was decidedly unglamorous.

They were perpetually on edge, and, as they were both teetotal and abhorred all drugs (the irony!), evenings were invariably spent ‘eating a nice meal and going to the gym or cinema’. 

Warren had no taste for expensive clothes preferring to slop around in ‘a trackie and trainers’.

His one vice was sex, and for a man of his status women were always available. This was particularly the case after he left Liverpool, in the mid-1990s — to escape a gangland war that exploded, threatening his business and safety — and moved into a rented villa in a small town near Amsterdam.

Mee was among gang members who lived nearby, and they would make regular forays to the Boccaccio Men’s Club, an upmarket bordello that could be mistaken for a country hotel were it not for the picture of a naked woman on the gate.

One of the harem, a beautiful Colombian, so beguiled Warren that she became his girlfriend, and was reputedly in bed with him when he was arrested.

His schoolboy-like obsession with sex — and talking about it — became comically apparent when British investigators, working in collaboration with the Dutch, began intercepting his mobile phone calls. 

Many of the conversations were with Tony Bray, a friend from his days as Liverpool club bouncer, who would call him up to ten times a day to swap gossip.

To bamboozle would-be eavesdroppers they spoke in ‘backslang’ — a dialect adopted by Scouse criminals. 

A gun was a ‘squirt’, money was ‘goulash’, and a helicopter was a ‘petrol budgie’. This ploy proved fruitless: a Liverpudlian police officer who understood the argot was sent to Holland to decipher the dialogue. 

Though associates say his notoriety is of no interest to him, the bugged calls suggest otherwise. He positively purrs as Bray tells him how a police contact thinks of him as ‘out of their league’ and untouchable. 

That conversation was intercepted on October 10, 1996. Precisely 14 days later, Warren was proved to be very touchable indeed. In a pre-dawn raid on his hideout, a Dutch arrest squad set off stun grenades and Warren woke with a machine gun pressed to his temple.

He was cuffed hand and foot and dragged, naked, into an armoured vehicle, then held in Holland’s toughest prison — a fate that simultaneously befell Mee and the other gang members.

Warren had narrowly escaped justice before, most notably in 1993, when his trial at Newcastle Crown Court — for smuggling £150 million worth of cocaine into Britain — collapsed over the involvement of a police informant.

‘I’m off to spend my £87 million from the first shipment and you can’t f***ing touch me,’ he is said to have taunted Customs officers as he swaggered out of the courtroom, referring to an earlier cocaine consignment that had got through. 

This time, Cocky’s luck had run out. He had arranged for a £75 million consignment of South American cocaine to be shipped via Rotterdam to Bulgaria, where he had allegedly bought a winery.

The ingenious plan being to pour the white powder into hundreds of bottles of cabernet, send them back to Holland and distil the cocaine into crystals for distribution throughout Europe.

However, when the container was held up in the Dutch port he made an uncharacteristic mistake, faxing the shipping agent to demand that it be moved. 

The message tied him personally to the cargo, which was discovered when the suspicious agent alerted police.

His court appearances apart, Britain’s biggest drugs boss has not been seen since then. On Merseyside and beyond, however, his name still conjures fear and awe in equal measure.

Warren also owned this property in Holland, where he was jailed in 1996 for his role in another drug smuggling plot

But what sort of man will walk through those prison gates? After 25 years, many prisoners are institutionalised and broken. 

Yet, by all accounts, the resourceful Scouser has thrived inside. Rigorous gym sessions have preserved his boxer’s physique. I hear he has read widely and gained an education.

Whether he is a wholly reformed character is another matter. In Jersey’s La Moye prison, he continued to run his empire from his cell — making 35,000 mobile calls before being caught.

And in 2014, Teresa Rodrigues, an addiction counsellor at the jail, confessed to having had a two-year affair with him, during which they managed to have sex almost daily.

It is a claim she repeated to me this week, when she spoke of his enormous ‘charisma’ which held everyone, the wardens included, in his thrall.

Six years later, after he was moved to Frankland prison, County Durham, a female warden was also revealed to have had a fling with him. 

Unlike Portuguese Ms Rodrigues, Stephanie Smithwhite was caught and sent to prison for two years for abusing her post.

So, to that £198 million, a figure calculated by the Jersey authorities, who believe his portfolio included some 240 houses in North-West England, petrol stations in Turkey, properties in Wales, the Gambia and Spain, plus a share in the Bulgarian winery.

Huge sums are said to have been deposited in secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg, or squirrelled away in Dubai.

Legend has it that some of his fortune is also buried in gardens on Merseyside. Police found a plastic bag containing £1 million in bank-notes in a flowerbed at the home of a close associate. 

If we believe Mee, though, it is ‘ridiculous’ to suggest Warren ever had hundreds of millions, and a Customs officer who investigated his operation concurs.

Mee claims the value of the drugs they imported was deliberately inflated by the authorities. 

Had the Dutch cache not been intercepted, they would have been ‘lucky to clear a million’, he claimed.

As for returning to the summit of the drug trafficking business, that too is fanciful, he says. Many of the men he controlled are dead or in jail; the drugs trade has changed beyond recognition.

Warren is said to have been offered huge sums for the film and documentary rights to his story.

But as the law forbids him from profiting from his crimes, his old sidekick doubts we will see him star in a Liverpool version of Narcos. 

Mee hopes his former boss will follow his lead and retire to gentler pursuits. Otherwise, he will surely ‘die in prison’.

Whether Warren heeds this advice remains to be seen. Yet we can be sure of one thing. 

With a penthouse and a sleek car at his disposal, surveillance officers are unlikely to catch the British Escobar hunting for bargains in Poundland.

Additional reporting: Liz Hull and Tim Stewart

  • Cocky: The Rise And Fall Of Curtis Warren — Britain’s Biggest Drug Baron (amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/0953084779/)

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