British speedboat killer 'lived openly' in Georgia before surrender

Jack Shepherd, who went on the run last year after killing a woman in a speedboat crash on the River Thames, is escorted by police officers in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Jan 23, 2019.
Jack Shepherd, who went on the run last year after killing a woman in a speedboat crash on the River Thames, is escorted by police officers in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Jan 23, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

TBILISI (AFP) - A Briton who went on the run ahead of his trial for killing a woman in a speedboat crash lived openly in ex-Soviet Georgia before turning himself in, the reporter who found him said Thursday (Jan 24).

Jack Shepherd, 31, was convicted of manslaughter last year for the death of Charlotte Brown, a 24-year-old woman he took on a champagne-fuelled first date on his speedboat in the River Thames in 2015.

He turned himself in to police in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Wednesday after being sentenced to six years in prison in Britain while on the run.

"He lived openly in a rented apartment in downtown Tbilisi, made local friends and even speaks some Georgian," said local television journalist Nino Mdinaradze, who interviewed him before he handed himself in to police.

"He had no job and spent his time in Georgia travelling across the country, frequently going to night clubs and attending social events," Mdinaradze told AFP.

Mdinaradze recorded an exclusive interview with Shepherd for Rustavi-2 television after he contacted the channel.

Shepherd flew in to Tbilisi last March from Istanbul and has remained there ever since, she said.

The television channel said the 31-year-old web designer contacted its journalists through an intermediary on Wednesday, informing them of his intention to give himself up.

Shepherd's Georgian lawyer Tariel Kakabadze said Thursday he did not rule out challenging the extradition request.

But Kakabadze said that Shepherd "denies committing any crime whatsoever and is confident that he will be acquitted."

He "is looking forward to cooperating with the investigation and the judiciary," the lawyer said.

A spokeswoman for Georgia's interior ministry, Sopho Mdinaradze, told AFP that Shepherd "will be without any doubt extradited to Britain," pending legal procedures.

Britain's Metropolitan Police said Wednesday that if Shepherd's identity is confirmed, "extradition proceedings will begin immediately".

Britain issued an international warrant for Shepherd's arrest after he vanished before he was due to stand trial last summer.

In the Georgian television interview, Shepherd defended his decision to go into hiding, arguing that Brown's death was an accident and he was not to blame because she was driving the boat at the time.

Initially "police rightly treated (the boat crash) as an accident," Shepherd told Rustavi-2.

"The actual thing that I did wrong - in the eyes of court - was to let her drive my boat," he added.

"I hope that the justice will be done and my appeal will succeed, and I can... everyone can move forward with their lives," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Twitter thanked Georgian police for "excellent assistance & cooperation".