A British man who spent almost 20 years as a fugitive in the United States has admitted the theft of a security van containing £1.2 million.

Eddie Maher - known as "Fast Eddie" - was wanted by Suffolk Police after the Securicor van he was driving disappeared from outside the Lloyds Bank in Felixstowe, Suffolk, on January 22 1993.

The 57-year-old, originally from South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, was arrested by US authorities in February last year and held in custody awaiting trial after denying the theft following his deportation. But he has entered a last-minute guilty plea at Southwark Crown Court in London. He is expected to be sentenced later.

Maher, who used the false identities of Stephen King and his brother Michael Maher while on the run, intended to fight the allegation on the grounds that he had been forced to commit the crime after racking up "significant debts".

But Suffolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service built up evidence proving that the former soldier and firefighter had profited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

During his time on the run, Maher built a new life with his partner, Deborah Brett, and their son Lee, who was three years old at the time of the theft. After his conviction, detectives revealed details of a series of property investments they say he funded from the proceeds of the crime.

This included a house in Colorado bought with 120,000 US dollars in cash just six months after the theft. Later Maher built a ranch on 80 acres in Colorado before moving around various US states.

At the time of his arrest on February 9 last year, he was working as a cable engineer in Missouri. But he was arrested for illegally possessing firearms and when US authorities contacted their UK counterparts about immigration issues, it became clear he was a wanted man.

Speaking outside court, Detective Inspector David Giles, from Suffolk Police, said: "Since his arrest, he has displayed no remorse for what he did - but I get the impression he has spent 20 years looking over his shoulder and hoping the law would not catch up with him."

Ms Brett, 47, Maher's sister Margaret Francis, 64, and a 54-year-old man, from Woodford Green, east London, are all on bail after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit theft.