Domenico Rancadore, one-time head of Cosa Nostra in Palermo district, had been living as Mark Skinner for 19 years in London
After 20 years living anonymously as Marc Skinner in a north-west Londonsuburb, the past suddenly caught up with a man known in Italy as "the professor" and named as one of the country's most wanted mafia bosses.
Officers from the Metropolitan police's extradition unit knocked on the door of his semi-detached home in a residential street in Uxbridge on Wednesday evening with a European arrest warrant alleging that he was Domenico Rancadore, one- time head of the Cosa Nostra in a district of Palermo in Sicily.
Rancadore, 64, attempted to leave via the back door but ran straight into a detective posted outside. At first he gave his name as Marc Skinner but when the officer said "I know who you are," Rancadore admitted his true identity. He was arrested and held overnight in a police station before appearing before Westminster magistrates court on Thursday.
But as his future liberty hung in the balance it emerged that an administrative problem with the way the Italian authorities had drawn up the European arrest warrant could mean it was legally meaningless. There were, Westminster magistrates'the court heard, "significant deficiencies" with the warrant, such that its validity was questionable, and district judge Quentin Purdy said it might have to be discharged.
As the proceedings opened against Rancadore, the Italian authorities issued a statement stating he was "a prominent representative of the Palermo mafia family" who had led a comfortable life in London since going on the run in 1994. The Metropolitan police said he had been arrested over an outstanding seven-year jail sentence in Italy.
But for the neighbours who have lived alongside him for years in Manor Waye, a post war cul-de-sac in Uxbridge, and knew him as Skinner, this description was far from what they knew of the man. The family home is a modest whitewashed property with smart rose beds in the drive.
Joan Hills, 74, a neighbour, said: "He is one of the best neighbours you could ever have. They have lived here for years and their children were brought up here. I love those two kids like I love my own. When I lost my husband, Marco hugged me and cried with me. They were just an ordinary family living in just an ordinary house."
Outside the house, however, a new CCTV camera was clearly visible pointing directly at the entrance. Just out of sight a new Jaguar XJL with blackened windows – worth an estimated £55,000 – was parked under a wooden carport.
Both Rancadore's children, Daniela, 33, and Giuseppe, 36 were born in the UK in the seventies and registered with his surname. They grew up in the area, and went to university from there, according to Hills. Rancadore's wife, Anne, who runs a travel company from their home address, Executive Travel, is a UK citizen who for the last few years has been the main breadwinner in the family. She and her daughter Daniela were in the public gallery when he was brought up from the cells to hear the case against him. Tanned and smartly dressed, he smiled at his daughter as she blew him a kiss.
He confirmed his true identity and when asked if he would consent to his extradition back to Italy for what the warrant said was a 1999 conviction for "participation in a criminal organisation", he replied emphatically: "No."
Benjamin Siefert, appearing for the Italian authorities, said the warrant accused Rancadore of being the leader or "man of honour" of the mafia family in Trabia, a province of Palermo between 1987 and 1995. He had been convicted in 1999, he said. Siefert said Rancadore was a "man of considerable means" who presented a flight risk and was a fugitive from justice, and as such he would oppose an application for bail made by Rancadore's solicitor.
Euan Macmillan, representing him, told the court that he had been tried in 1993 in Palermo with others for membership of the mafia, but had been acquitted after a three year judicial process. He came to the UK in 1993, Macmillan said, a free man with his Italian passport and his family.
"He was married in Italy in 1976, his children were born in the UK, his wife is a UK citizen, he returned here following the proceedings in Italy."
The court heard that Rancadore was a former teacher and after the proceedings had decided to take his pension and come to the UK. "He has led a blameless life in this country for 20 years," Macmillan said. Rancadore, he said, now suffered from heart problems and had a stent fitted within the last year.
"He is on a cocktail of drugs for that heart condition and related problems," said Macmillan.
The lawyer said overnight in custody the police had taken Rancadore to Hillingdon hospital after he complained if chest pains. He said he would be applying for bail as Rancadore had no identity documents and no means to flee the court's jurisdiction.
But Purdy, remarked that Rancadore had tried to flee via the rear door of his home when officers arrived on Wednesday and had managed to remain hidden from the British police who have been looking for him since January 2012.
"That is a man who takes flight as soon as he sees the police are there," said Purdy. "He clearly wasn't found with ease. He has now been found but that doesn't mean he won't disappear again. It's taken a great deal of effort to find him."
The Italian interior ministry said that the arrest had taken place after the British police acted on information from the Italian authorities and police in the southern city of Potenza, which enabled them to identify where he was after 19 months of seeking his whereabouts.
Neighbours remained in disbelief when they heard Rancadore would not be returning home. "I just thought he was a taxi driver or a chauffeur," said Maurice Maitland. "Mind you, you don't know do you? You can't look at a person and say they are a mafia boss."