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JUSTICE FINALLY PREVAILS

A man who fled the country twelve years ago to avoid a prison sentence was finally brought to justice in Leeds recently.

The original conviction resulted from a police investigation, back in 1993, into a Mirfield private hire car company. The proprietor of the company had admitted buying, on three separate occasions, a stolen blank insurance cover note from Mohammed Ashraf, now aged 54. The notes had then been issued to uninsured drivers so that, if stopped by the police and asked to produce documents, they would appear to have the necessary insurance.

The proprietor claimed to have paid 35 for each of the cover notes, although Ashraf denied ever having received the money. The illegal nature of the notes was finally found out due to them all having the same registration number, which did not match the car to which they supposedly applied. Ashraf pleaded guilty in 1993 but, as recorded in the pre-sentence report, told a probation officer that he could not read or write and had not realised what the notes were. Two other people who were charged denied any involvement in the scam and so Ashraf was bailed after the trial to await sentence. The following year, the two other defendants changed their plea to guilty and were subsequently dealt with. By this time Ashraf, after suffering a breakdown of his marriage, had fled the country.

He went to Germany and stayed with a relative, eventually getting work and establishing a new life for himself. Ashraf subsequently bought property with a 50,000 Euro mortgage. He returned to the UK ten or twelve times over the following years to visit his children. However, a warrant had been issued for his arrest and, on the last of his visits, was finally executed on July 24 2006 at Manchester Airport.

Ashraf was subsequently sentenced to three months in prison for the original offence of committing acts tending or intending to pervert the course of justice, plus the additional charge of failing to answer bail. Representing Ashraf, John Dunning told the court he had provided the cover notes to a ready market and was aware they would be used for some illegal purpose. But, in mitigation, he said: "He tended to put his head in the sand when nothing happened and life went on."

Sentencing Ashraf, the Recorder of Leeds, Judge Norman Jones QC acknowledged that the offences were old and that there had been no evidence of Ashraf being in any trouble while living in Germany. He added: "While there must be a prison sentence it need not be longer than the period you have already had in custody."

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