A British grandmother has become a fugitive from the French judicial system, wanted for a conviction that she never knew she had.

Deborah Dark, 45, from Richmond, west London, was blissfully unaware of her status as a wanted woman when she went to visit her elderly father in Spain. Her plight became clear only as she tried to return home. At the airport she was arrested and incarcerated for a month, as French authorities sought to have her extradited to serve a six-year sentence.

Though a Spanish judge denied the request she was arrested again on her return to London. A European Arrest Warrant has been issued and authorities in every member state of the EU are obliged to detain her should she set foot in their country.

The alleged offense for which Dark is now being pursued is from 1988, when she was 24 and driving home from a vacation in Marbella, Spain, with her 8-year-old daughter. At the French border, customs searched her car and found several kilograms of marijuana beneath the floor and in the sunroof.

Dark told the French police that she had been unaware of the drugs, and suspected that her boyfriend of nine months was responsible. He had asked her to rent a car in her name, she said.

A French court believed her account and she was acquitted after eight months. She went home and ended the relationship with her boyfriend.

But the prosecution subsequently made a successful appeal and in 1990, Dark was sentenced in her absence to six years in prison. Neither she nor her lawyer were made aware of this, either at the time or during the next two decades. During that time Dark traveled to France on several occasions, unaware of her status as a convicted criminal.

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