By Umberto Bacchi
A Mafia boss who was arrested in London after almost two decades on the run said he came to Britain as a free man to start over a new life away from police and Cosa Nostra, a court heard.
Domenico Rancadore, who is fighting extradition to Italy where he was sentenced to 7-years in jail for being a member of the Sicilian Mafia, said he moved to the UK from Palermo in early 1994.
"I've a love with this country. This is the country where I want to stay," Rancadore, 64, told Westminster Magistrates Court in London, after swearing on a Bible at the start of his interview.
The former PE teacher was first tried for mafia related crimes as part of the infamous maxi trial in 1987, which saw more than 450 Mafiosi indicted. Rancadore was acquitted.
His father Giuseppe, also an alleged mob leader, was found guilty in appeal instead. He died a few years ago while serving a life-term.
Led by Italy's most famous anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the maxi trial lasted almost two years and Rancadore spend many months under house arrest, a period he described as "a big stress".
"Police came to check up on him in the house day and night, waking us up at night" Rancadore's wife Anne, whose mother is British, told the court.
"My son got stopped by police quite often," she said. "They interrogated him, where is he going, saying 'Oh! You are the grandson of Rancadore'."
"It was traumatic for all of us," she said. "The only good thing was that my husband was at home and we could be together."
Wearing a blue shirt under a grey jumper, the man described by Italian authorities "leading figure" of Sicilian Cosa Nostra told the court how he waited until reaching retirement age as a teacher before to reach his in-laws, who were living in Ealing, to start "a different life in this country."
His wife and two children - Giuseppe, now 36, and Daniela, now 33 - joined him a few months later.
In June that year they all went to a priest to have their surname changed to Skinner, Rancadore's mother-in-law's maiden name.
"I wanted to cut every tie with my past," Rancadore said. "I've never called my dad; I've never called my mom."
Persecuting Hannah Hinton said that, while his wife and children got a new passport under the new name, Rancadore did not and there is no official record he changed his name to Mark Skinner, either.
Hinton suggested he was trying to remain off the radar of authorities. Rancadore denies that.
Although he admitted he came to Britain partially because he was "a little bit worried" they would arrest him again and he would end up in prison.
By December 1994 Italian police issued another arrest warrant for Rancadore over Mafia related crimes.
Rancadore claimed he was not immediately aware of it. He was eventually sentenced in absentia to 9 years in jail in 1998.
His hands shacking while holding paper documents, the alleged mobster claimed he didn't signed a letter giving mandate to his Italian lawyers to appeal the sentence, although both he and his wife admitted the signature looks like his. In appeal his sentence was reduced to 7 years.
Rancadore was arrested at his home in Uxbridge, west London, under a European arrest warrant in August last year. He lived in the semi-detached home in the prosperous suburb, at the end of the Metropolitan underground line, registered under his wife name.
No identity documents for him were found at the premises and he also had no national insurance number, Hinton said.
Italian authorities allege that he was one of the heads of Cosa Nostra, an armed criminal organisation that "spreads terror in Sicily by systematically murdering anybody who did not comply with the will of the members of the organisation," the court heard at a previous hearing.
Palermo prosecutors alleged Rancadore was a leading 'Man of Honour' of the Palermo Mafia 'family', with a senior managerial role in the Caccamo chapter and, in particular, he was the head of Cosa Nostra in the district of Trabia.
Two of his henchmen were arrested in 1995 for delivering a lamb's head and 10 bullets to a prison chaplain, whose charitable activities conflicted with the mob's business, Italian media reported.
Hinton suggested that during his 20 years in the UK he didn't commit any crime in order to avoid police attention.
"[It's] my nature not doing any crime," Rancadore told Judge Howard Riddle.
The trial continues.