On Thursday lunchtime, Enrico Mariotti is expecting to receive his final visitor at the house where he has lived for the past seven years.

When the police officer knocks on his door, the grandfather-of-four plans to invite him in and offer him a cup of coffee before accepting a lift to Gatwick.

From there he will fly to Italy, but not for any trip he will enjoy. Instead the 66-year-old will begin a 26- year prison sentence for the brutal mafia killing of an aristocratic newspaper owner.

He fled to England in 1993 after realising he was a suspect over the kidnap and murder of Duke Massimiliano Grazioli in 1977.

He was convicted in his absence in 1995 on the strength of the testimony of a mob "supergrass", Maurizio Abbatino.

After the Home Secretary Jack Straw threw out an Italian attempt to extradite him in 1998, Mr Mariotti settled in Burgess Hill.

He took a job as a computer engineer working for Sussex County Cricket Club sponsors Pav IT.

Now, after growing used to getting his news from The Argus, Mr Mariotti has persuaded his former colleagues to send him copies to him.

The Italian government launched a second attempt to extradite him in 2003.

After two years of court battles, he learned this month that his appeal had been turned down.

He says the case against him was full of inconsistencies, including a claim that he drove a six-wheeled amphibious car to a secret meeting with fellow gangsters.

He said: "I had never seen a six-wheeled car in my life, until I went to a steam festival in Laughton, near Ringmer."

When he returns to Italy, he has no prospect of a retrial or appeal against his conviction. He believes Abbatino's testimony was given credibility because he was the key witness in a high-profile corruption trial which started after his own.

Mr Mariotti, who was linked to the murdered duke because he knew his son, Giulio, says he left Italy when he became a wanted man because he expected to face years in custody awaiting a trial.

He said: "I could have spent seven or ten years in prison and if I was lucky they would have said it was a mistake. This was why I said it was better to stay away."

After years of legal wrangling, Mr Mariotti has compared his situation to the novels of Kafka.

He said: "It is the most unfair situation I have ever heard of in my life. I have no convictions, no charges for anything in any country apart from this murder.

"I have worked for 50 years. I try to help others and do my best for everyone.

Now my reward is to die in prison."

A declared Anglophile, he is a member of the National Trust and enjoys walking on the South Downs.

His love affair with England began when British tanks rolled in to liberate his childhood village from the Germans in the Second World War.

As he prepares to leave his home, in Nye Road, Burgess Hill, Mr Mariotti, whose first wife died in Italy in 1995, is leaving his partner Christine Paterson behind. He said: "We are both devastated."

But he bears no grudge against Britain for handing him back to the Italian authorities.

He said: "It is a tragedy.

But sometimes I think I have to be philosophical."

  • The Crime

On November 7, 1977, a group of criminals from the Magliana district of Rome kidnapped a millionaire landowner and newspaper proprietor, Duke Massimiliano Grazioli Lante della Rovere.

He was snatched from his BMW outside the city and held to ransom for 10bn lira (£5m).

In March 1978, his son, Giulio, paid the Magliana Gang, as they became known, 1.5bn lira (£750,000) ransom.

The cash was put in a bag and thrown from a motorway bridge to the gang waiting below, after they called out agreed code words.

The Duke was not returned, and his body was never found. He was presumed murdered.

The gang reputedly used the money to finance a takeover of Rome's criminal underworld.

The Magliana Gang has been linked to some of the highest-profile mafia crimes of the 1970s and 1980s, including the assassination of former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro and God's Banker' Roberto Calvi, the head of a bank with ties to the Vatican who was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982.