Hoods: The Gangs of Nottingham, A Study in Organised Crime (2012)
S THE A453 carves its way between the flood plains either side of Kegworth and Wilford, leading towards the Clifton estate, the first clue that a visitor is about to enter a city with a rich history is the welcome sign: a Robin Hood motif. This is Nottingham, a city where, for some, the myths are intrinsic to and inseparable from the reality. A city that feels like a village, where everyone seems to know everyone else and people are not slow to update each other on the latest gossip or fable. Thousands of tourists arrive every year to seek out the legend of Robin Hood and, of course, that is all it is – a legend. A fable borne from writings some 600 years old and revolving around two characters: the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood: one a cynical, overbearing, authoritarian figure whose main task is to round up outlaws, the other an outlaw whose aim is to take wealth from the rich, by violent means if necessary, and distribute it to the poor.
Nottingham dates back to early Saxon times. In 600 A.D., it fell under the control of a Saxon chief known as Snot, whose people populated the ancient caves which still permeate the city and its Lace Market area today. It quickly became known as Snottingham, which means the ‘homestead of the people of Snot’. In more recent years, headline writers in London would revive the use of the ‘S’ and label the gun-plagued city ‘Shottingham’. It evolved into a centre first for the manufacture of religious artefacts during the fifteenth century and then, by the time of the Industrial Revolution, for the making of lace. The River Trent, which runs through the city, was crucial to its development. Marking the divide between northern and southern England, it linked Nottingham with the Potteries to the west and the Humber to the east. It was on the Trent, navigable for some 117 miles, that King Canute purportedly attempted to turn back the tides, near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.
The textile industry brought prosperity. The area’s lace-making became internationally renowned and by 1831 the population had swelled to 51,000. But this rapid expansion also resulted in what were reputed to be the worst slums in the British Empire outside India, and this in turn led to the riots of 1831. The first Reform Bill, which sought to end some of the abuses and corruption of the electoral system by giving more people the right to vote, was rejected by the House of Lords, and those living in poverty took up arms and burnt down the Sheriff’s lair, Nottingham Castle. Then owned by the pompous, anti-reformist Duke of Newcastle, whose surname still adorns streets in the nearby Park area of the city, the castle bore the brunt of several days of rioting; it was another forty years before it received a replacement roof.
From the midst of this angry, dispossessed mass emerged a gang called, rather inappropriately in the circumstances, the Nottingham Lambs. They were anything but lambs. Originally the name was applied to early nineteenth century gangs who fought on behalf of rival political masters: the Yellow (Whig) ‘lambs’ taking on their Blue (Tory) rivals. Eventually it came to apply to the ale-swilling brutes who followed renowned bare-knuckle fighter William Thompson, commonly known as Bendigo, who became Champion of England in 1839. Such was Bendigo’s reputation that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned an ode to him entitled Bendigo’s Sermon;
You didn’t know of Bendigo?
Well that knocks me out!
Who’s your board schoolteacher?
What’s he been about?
Chock a block with fairy tales;
Full of useless cram,
And never heard of Bendigo
The Pride Of Nottingham
Bendigo became an icon to the poor of Nottingham as he demolished opponents across the country. He spent spare hours fishing by the Trent, on one occasion rescuing three people from drowning. Though he eventually turned to God, preaching fire and brimstone in the streets, he was also a terrible drinker and incorrigible brawler and frequently appeared before the courts. He eventually became a figure of fun, taunted by small children. He died in 1880, aged sixty-nine, after falling down the stairs at his home in Beeston. His funeral procession, one of the biggest ever seen in Nottingham, was a mile long, with thousands lining the streets to pay tribute. In Bestwood Park is a small wooded copse known as Bendigo’s Ring, where, it is said, he fought some of his matches and where his restless spirit lays in wait ready to exact revenge upon the children who taunted him during his final years.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the city population was 240,000 and Nottingham was a major centre of commerce. The majestic Council House, which looks out over the Market Square, known as ‘slab square’, was completed in 1928, causing the famous Goose Fair to be moved to its present location on Forest Fields. But by the Second World War, profits to be made from the lace industry were dwindling and the city began to rely on other industries for employment, such as the Raleigh bike and Players cigarettes factories, the mining industry, and the chemist chain Boots, which had been built into a national chain by Jesse, the son of founder John Boot.
Some of the worst crimes in the city were not of a human but of a planning nature. The demolition of the Black Boy Hotel in Long Row in the late 1960s was one such misdemeanour. It was a hugely popular watering hole, crafted by the renowned Victorian architect Watson Fothergill and incorporating a huge tower and Bavarian-style wooden balcony. One of the most striking landmarks in the city centre, it made way for a dull shopfront eventually occupied by Littlewoods and later Primark. By 1969, some of Nottingham’s older homes had been deemed unfit for habitation by the local housing authority. Despite the protests of many families living in them, including those in the terraced houses of the St Ann’s district, they were bulldozed and replaced with modern houses and flats. However, the open plan St Ann’s, with its narrow interlocking alleyways and poor lighting, soon became was a mugger’s paradise. Having failed to learn from their mistakes with the St Ann’s estate, the planners went on to design the huge Meadows estate in much the same fashion.
Nottingham was no different to many other urban centres in the post-war period, built upon a strong ethic of work hard, play hard. The factories boomed, as did the hard-drinking image of the city portrayed in Alan Sillitoe’s groundbreaking 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, later filmed starring Albert Finney. It was the first in a series of ‘kitchen-sink’ cinema dramas focusing on the boozing, street-fighting, womanising, white working-class male and his view of the world. It encapsulated his schizophrenic existence, the Saturday night alcoholic haze contrasting with the sobriety of the Sunday, which preceded the start of the working week.
The no-frills hero of the story, Arthur Seaton, is a man who coins a phrase for his and subsequent generations: ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down.’ Set in the terraced Victorian ‘little palaces’ of Radford, where much of the later movie was filmed, it captures his life working at the local Raleigh factory where, just as at the nearby Players cigarettes factory, thousands of Nottingham workers would clock in and out during the week and await the weekend. It doffed the cap to the country of D.H. Lawrence’s miner, but now instead of working at the coalface he was sweating over a lathe to bring home his wages. It was also the age of the Angry Young Man and the whiff of revolt was in the air, but what Sillitoe, Nottingham and the rest of the country had missed was that this would realise itself, initially, in antagonism from within the indigenous white working-class community towards the communities who had migrated to Britain in the post-war period.
After the Second World War, many communities within the British Commonwealth and Europe, which had been allies in the war effort, saw in Britain a chance to throw off the shackles of the old world and embrace a new life in a new country – the mother country. The loss of a large proportion of the young, white population of working age during the war created a demand for labour. Among those who took up the challenge and sailed from Jamaica were two brothers, Vincent and Wellesley Robinson. In Nottingham and further afield, they would eventually become known by their respective nicknames: ‘PG Man’ and ‘Douggie Man’. The story of their extended family is a microcosm of some of the roots of social and crime problems besetting the Afro-Caribbean community in Britain today. The Robinson family were to become infamous in Nottingham, their story eventually emerging in Nick Davies’ ground-breaking book Dark Heart. But to understand what was happening we must go back to 1950s Britain and the new immigration.
By the late 1950s, many Afro-Caribbean families had made the trip to Britain. Some Caribbean men had already experienced the UK, having been stationed as servicemen, mainly airmen, in the country during the war. They found in Britain a chance of prosperity unavailable back home. On 22 June 1948, the steamship SS Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, carrying nearly 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad, many of them ex-servicemen. Though it amounted to a mere trickle of migrants, those who made the transatlantic voyage were pioneers, setting in motion a myriad of social changes in post-war Britain.
Steve Mitchell, a former serviceman and passenger on the Windrush, later described the alienation that he and other male Afro-Caribbeans encountered when they reached British cities. ‘People just took their chance,’ he told the radio journalist Alan Dein. ‘I suppose what was the biggest stumbling block to them was being refused accommodation in houses that had vacancies. You could see notices in the windows, they have vacancies, and as soon as they ring the bell or knock the door, they would shut the door in their face. This was the mother country and they expect it to be motherly to them but they were disappointed. All I had was my bit of clothing, nothing else. I landed with £5 and no tools, nothing else, couple of suits, few shirts, no overcoat, no nothing, wasn’t prepared for the cold weather. I was given a little job, pick-and-shovelling to fortify myself for the winter to come, so in that sense I was lucky.’ Mitchell described another integration problem which would later lead to Britain’s first major race riots: black men meeting white women at dances. ‘There was a lot (of white women) who would willingly dance with you so it was mostly the men who caused the problem, not the women. Black fellas never had no problem getting white women, it was the men who was making all the problem. You’d go to dances [and] very few women would refuse to dance with you.’
With Britain ill-prepared for integration, it was this tension between the white working-class male portrayed in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and the new immigrants from the Afro-Caribbean which led on 23 August 1958 to an outbreak of sustained violence in the St Ann’s area. There are two different stories about what sparked the riots that night but both involved the perception that a black man should not be with a white woman. ‘There were two accounts,’ said the late Eric Irons, who became Nottingham’s first black magistrate in 1962. ‘One was that a West Indian was in the pub chatting up a white young lady and, when he left the premises, he was assaulted. The other was that someone insulted a West Indian man out with his white girlfriend. I think the police and everybody were shocked by the speed and ferocity of the West Indian response. There was no nonsense about it.’
At 10.20pm, police received a 999 call from a pub in St Ann’s Well Road after a black man was severely beaten by several youths with his own walking stick. Hours later, the city was recovering from the devastation caused by more than 1,000 young men – mostly Teddy Boys and West Indian males going on the rampage. As running street battles continued throughout the night, young men were bottled, beaten and, in several cases, men, mostly white males, were stabbed. ‘The whole place was like a slaughterhouse,’ said the Nottingham Evening Post. It was clearly an overstatement, yet it captured the feeling of shock that the whole city felt. The following weekend a larger crowd of 4,000 gathered in St Ann’s Wells Road but the Afro-Caribbean males stayed away. More violence erupted as the white Teddy Boys turned on each other, creating a turf war between young gangs from St Ann’s and those who had dared to venture into the city from the Bulwell area.
As Mike and Trevor Phillips point out in their illuminating book Windrush, the second outbreak of violence was more significant. ‘At the time, nearly all the commentators, focused as they were on race, missed the point, which was that if there were no black people available on whom to focus their rage, the crowds were equally willing to fight each other. In that sense it was apparent that the riots were as much about the feelings of exclusion and deprivation experienced by a wide section of the English population as they were about the presence of black migrants. The attention that the disturbances claimed for the conditions in which the people lived was, in itself, a factor calming the city.’ It was also about young people defining themselves by the area into which they had been born or, as the young black males from the estates in St Ann’s or the Meadows would later describe it, life in the ghetto.
By 1958, the belated post-war boom which had brought many Afro-Caribbean immigrants to Britain was drawing to a close and cultural tensions, which had been hidden to some extent, began to surface. Many West Indians found themselves facing a closed door when applying for jobs in Nottingham factories or even when buying a half of their favoured stout at the local pub. On the other hand, life for everyone in St Ann’s was tough, with poor housing conditions for white and black neighbours alike.
As Milton Crosdale, another Nottingham black rights campaigner, pointed out, the riots led to a change in public housing policy. ‘Up to 1958, you had a number of people from Caribbean countries in Nottingham,’ he said. ‘They had jobs but they had difficulty finding a place to live or they were in multiple occupation. People from the Caribbean were being shepherded into St Ann’s and the Meadows. You had people crowded into old St Ann’s, most of them living in multiple occupation. Nottingham, unlike other cities, went on to knock down major estates. Derby didn’t knock down whole areas and rebuild them. Leicester didn’t do it. It had a significant effect on the redistribution of people in the city. For me, the most significant thing was about how the employment market was being opened up. People began to realise that there was a serious problem. Who would have thought there would have been riots in Nottingham? Riots on their doorsteps? You can talk about prejudice but if it doesn’t affect them in their front rooms, it doesn’t matter. You can get away from it. It’s like famine in Africa. It’s only when it’s on a TV picture and you’re eating a meal in your front room that it affects you.’
A week after the riots in Nottingham, the Notting Hill area of west London erupted in an orgy of violence that made headlines around the world.
Into this cauldron of racism and lack of opportunity dropped Vincent and Wellesley Robinson when they arrived in Nottingham from their homes in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in the early 1960s. The story has it that Vincent was born on the day in 1938 that the Governor of Fiji made an official visit to Jamaica, and so was nicknamed ‘Fiji Man’ by relatives, which over the years became mispronounced as PG Man. Vincent was around twenty when he arrived in Nottingham, while Wellesley was a couple of years older. Before long, any aspirations they held were dashed when it became apparent just how difficult it was to get a steady job if you were black. Every time they went to the factory gates with a vacancy sign on it, they were turned away with the words, ‘Job filled, sorry.’ They became worn down by the sheer repetition of the rejections, although Vincent, who was a dapper dresser, managed to get a tiny part as an extra in the film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. He appeared on screen only briefly, seen in the background in a scene involving Albert Finney near the city’s castle, but such was his pride that he spent a week polishing his shoes for the part.
Many of the new immigrants identified not with England, which had held out a hand of false hope to them, but with their Jamaican homeland, and they began to import a bit of Caribbean sunshine into those dark days. Shebeens, or illegal drinking and gambling houses, began to spring up in Nottingham and Vincent and Wellesley saw this as a way to provide for their growing families. There would be classic ska music, soul and blues playing through the distorted sound system, which was always cranked up high enough to vibrate through the neighbours’ floorboards, and there would be rice and peas, yams and curried goat and other tasty Jamaican food. And, of course, there would be ‘a bit of smoke’. Cannabis was as essential to the Jamaican soul of the sixties as the music which boomed from the sound systems. The rude boy was born.
While most of the drug-taking white youth of Nottingham were downing amphetamines – for the most part taken from chemist shops which had been burgled – and staying up all night to listen to The Who and the Rolling Stones, their Jamaican counterparts were easing back into their chairs for a smoke of ganja, playing cards or dominoes and listening to the ska of Prince Buster, the blues of Jimmy Cliff and later the reggae of Bob Marley and the Wailers. Prince Buster’s hit Big Five in 1968 would almost certainly have been banned if the controllers of the nation’s radio airwaves had understood the lyrics. They also illuminated the baser instincts of the Jamaican male, which would cause a host of social problems in later years.
Right now I’m feeling irie
Want a big, fat pussy this December night
Today I smoke an ounce of weed
Tonight I’m gonna plant a seed
In her wump, alright.
By the late 1960s, Nottinghamshire Police had concluded that it was easier to bust Jamaicans for cannabis than it was to bust white youths for popping pills. They only had to follow the pumping sounds coming from the shebeens and smell the acrid smoke wafting out from the houses to know they could make a quick bust. The sound systems were a product of the ghettos of Kingston and Spanish Town, where DJs would load up their trucks with a generator, turntable and huge speakers and set up impromptu street parties. By the early 1960s, Jamaican MCs such as Count Machuki were pumping out music through wardrobe-sized speakers capable of delivering 30,000 watts of sound.
PG Man and Douggie Man were soon running regular blues nights at their homes in Nottingham, initially using a fifty-watt speaker. Once they had a little money, they invested in a sound system they named the V Rocket. It would become well known throughout the UK over the following three decades and even now tapes from the V Rocket are much sought after. V Rocket would vie with the sound system called Saxon run by a Birmingham crew, and there would be many times in the 1980s and 1990s when guns were let off into the ceilings of shebeens to salute the DJs from the two sound systems.
With cannabis readily available, it was a safe bet that they would be busted sooner or later. When they were, it triggered a chain of events that would lead, eventually, straight to the front pages of the News of the World, the country’s most lurid, and popular, Sunday tabloid. PG Man was living in Querneby Road, near to what would become the St Ann’s estate, when things started to get hot. PG Man had already had a few encounters with the police. He spent three months in prison in the early 1960s after he was caught with a small amount of cannabis. Douggie Man, who lived nearby in Alfred Street North, had also been busted for a small amount of cannabis in August 1966, which resulted in a £100 fine. Then things started to get much worse: PG Man began working for the police. After his last bust they had told him that he would be able to run his shebeen, sell cannabis and stay out of prison if he started informing on his friends and family. Police raids started to occur regularly and PG Man’s friends and neighbours all told the same story: drugs were being planted and were nothing to do with them. They were people like Keith Ansell Maclean, nicknamed ‘P Sun’, whose home in Truman Street was raided in September 1968 for a small amount of drugs. PG Man testified against him in court for the prosecution, saying that he got drugs from him, and P Sun went to prison for twelve months.
In the end, even Douggie Man was busted. Despite his daughter Elaine claiming she had spotted police planting the drugs on top of a radio, the courts did not believe he was an innocent man. He faced a three-year prison sentence and it became apparent to everyone that mattered that PG Man was working for the police. By now he had acquired another nickname: ‘Judas’. Yet he was sick with remorse that he had sold his own brother down the river to save his own skin and vowed to get his revenge on the cops who, he felt, had forced him into a corner. He went to London to see if he could get a gun and planned to come back and use it on the officers who he felt had used him. But one of PG Man’s friends, Adam Foster, had a better idea. He knew a News Of The World journalist, Simon Regan, and was sure that he could expose what had been going on and hurt the police officers on PG Man’s back without resorting to violence. Regan listened to PG Man’s woes as he detailed the troubles of a black man living in a white man’s world. Then he set up PG Man up with several job interviews in the Nottingham area, including at the Player’s cigarette factory. He watched how each job vacancy disappeared once PG Man showed his face for interview. Altogether, he was turned away from more than forty vacancies. Next Regan moved onto PG Man’s story of planting drugs on his neighbours for the police. By the summer of 1969, Regan had a wealth of covert tapes which he believed were enough to show that certain police officers had acted corruptly. They apparently included PG Man going into the police station, being given cannabis and then arranging to call the police once he had been able to plant it.
In August 1969, the country’s biggest-selling newspaper ran the story under the headline ‘Police Plot to Plant Drugs’. It detailed, in full, PG Man’s allegations and caused a sensation. The tapes landed on the desk of the then Home Secretary, James Callaghan, who had helped draft the Race Relations Act of 1968. He wasted no time in appointing a senior officer from Manchester and Salford Constabulary to investigate. The officer listened to the tapes, interviewed PG Man and many of his friends and associates, and believed what they had to tell. The inquiry sent shockwaves through the corridors of Nottinghamshire Police and three officers were charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice. PG Man was cock-a-hoop, as were his relatives and friends.
The officers went on trial at Nottingham Crown Court in October 1970. Opening the prosecution case, Cyril Salmon, QC, told the jury they were about to hear ‘a saga of corruption’ which revolved around Jamaican immigrants being ‘bullied, coerced and intimidated’ by police officers into giving false evidence against family and friends. Police officers, he said, had threatened to arrest and prosecute Jamaican males who refused to become informants, had turned a blind eye to the illegal activities of others involved in prostitution and shebeens, on the basis that they became informants and had given drugs to others to plant on the targets of their crime-busting activities.
However, the jury were to be denied access to the damning tapes made by Simon Regan and PG Man. The judge, Mr Justice Kilner-Brown, decided that there was no proof that the voices on the tapes belonged to the police officers, and ruled them inadmissible. The jury then heard witness after witness describe how police had coerced them into informing after their homes were raided by officers looking for drugs. They included Victor ‘Speck’ Brown, who was arrested over non-payment of a fine and sent to prison for ten weeks. He told the court, ‘A vice squad officer said to me: “Tell us about anyone who is selling cannabis and you walk – otherwise you is going to prison.”’ Seymour Oliver said police had planted cannabis on him as well. Then it was thirty-two-year-old PG Man’s turn. He described how he had been forced to write a statement implicating Ansell ‘P Sun’ MacLean in dealing cannabis, resulting in MacLean being jailed for a year. He said police had told him, ‘Vincent, you can continue to deal in cannabis and run a shebeen if you inform on other Jamaicans.’
The witnesses went on and on, all telling broadly the same story. But sometimes there were inconsistencies in their testimonies, which were pounced on by the defence barristers. The all-white jury found it difficult to follow the Jamaican accents and, after only thirty-eight of the planned eighty-seven witnesses for the prosecution had been called to give evidence, they sent a confidential note to the judge. It was the thirty-third day of the trial and the judge ruminated for a while on what the jury had said in the note. Finally Mr Justice Kilner-Brown announced, ‘I agree with you, members of the jury. It seems to me it would be an absolute waste of time to produce any more witnesses who may be regarded as rubbishy by you.’
The trial was abandoned and, on Monday, 23 November 1970, all the police officers were cleared. The judge thanked the jury and commended them, saying that the trial had at the very least proved that ‘the coloured community had nothing to fear’ from a British jury. Nottinghamshire Police Authority was quick to tell the local paper what a travesty it had been that any police officers had had to face charges. ‘It is regrettable that the force has been deprived of these officers for so long on the evidence of people who have never done a day’s work since they came to this country,’ said the authority’s vice chairman.
PG Man and his friends and relatives had been publicly humiliated, and through successive generations the resentment that built up around the case would prevent many in their community trusting authority in any meaningful way again. Some of the young Robinsons were more convinced than ever that the way to live their lives was to be the ‘bad black man’ and the second and third generations would embrace that role, as epitomised by Jimmy Cliff in the cult 1972 film The Harder They Come, the story of a Jamaican anti-hero who shoots a police officer. ‘I’d rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave,’ sang Cliff in the title track. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of PG Man’s and Douggie Man’s numerous offspring were caught up in crime. PG Man alone fathered seventeen children, while by the time Douggie Man’s eldest daughter Elaine had reached twenty, she had five children all by different fathers. One of Douggie Man’s sons had fathered seven children by five different women by the late 1980s. It seemed to the women that that was how many young Jamaican males behaved: they spread their seed and then abandoned you with a pile of dirty nappies and no money to bring up the children.
The British ska revival of the late 1970s, spearheaded by Jerry Dammers’ 2 Tone record label, and the popular reggae sounds of the Rastafarian movement gave Douggie Man’s V Rocket sound system a boost and some welcome earnings but some of the family seemed to see criminality as their only route to financial survival. The young rude boys of the second generation were of a grittier character than their fathers. PG Man and his peers had been happy to deal in cannabis and take in a bit of cash by running blues nights, but they generally eschewed violence. Some had put a few white women onto the streets but they looked after them better than the Glaswegian pimps they had taken over from. The next generation, though, were carrying knives and even guns, robbing people and trafficking prostitutes all over the country. If you were in London and picked up a prostitute near Paddington or King’s Cross during the late 1980s, there was a good chance that they had come from Nottingham. And then crack cocaine burst into the ghetto.
By 1989, Nottinghamshire Police had begun to see the symptoms of this new cocaine derivative on the streets of Radford, St Ann’s and the Meadows. It wasn’t that they were arresting more people or busting the crack houses which had begun to spring up, or that they were making huge seizures of the drug; it was the sinister breakdown of morality. Crack left an indelible trail everywhere its users went: prostitutes beaten black and blue by their cane-carrying, crack-smoking pimps; men willing to sell their own girlfriends on the streets to buy more crack, and the girlfriends willing participants because they needed their crack pipe full too; robbers who previously drew the line at stealing a handbag from a pensioner now not only robbing them but beating them black and blue when there wasn’t enough money in the stolen purse to get a rock. It was not just that this drug left the rude boys unable to pay their debts, it was morally bankrupting sections of certain communities in Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and London.
In June 1989, the Nottinghamshire drug squad made its first major seizure of crack. Roy Scott, aged thirty-six, a small-time street dealer from Denman Gardens, Radford, was stopped in the street with more than 120 rocks after a tip-off. Each rock of crack, from which you got about five smokes, was then selling at £25-£30. Scott was jailed for seven years. It was the largest single seizure of crack cocaine in the country that year and it came straight off the street; crack didn’t hang around in lock-ups for weeks like cocaine, heroin, speed, ecstasy or cannabis might, with dealers waiting for the right moment to shift it wholesale. Crack, by its nature, is consumed rapidly by its users and when it’s gone they crave more. It was a high-turnover trade. Mobile phones had also made dealing easy and the dealers distanced themselves from potential arrest further by corrupting the local youth. At the bottom of this huge business pyramid, permeated with crack and heroin, the twelve- and thirteen-year-olds who rode around St Ann’s on mountain bikes would take the risks. Rocks of crack in pocket, they would make handovers and get paid a few pounds by the dealer. Career paths no longer meant anything to these teenagers; they weren’t bothered if the police picked them up. What could the police do when they told officers they had just found the bag of drugs in the street? As youngsters they aspired to be footballers or pop stars, not doctors or police officers, and if they didn’t make it they knew they would be able to make it as drug dealers in a few years’ time. Then they too could have a BMW and some nice jewellery.
One of the principal reasons that crack cocaine was turning up with the same regularity and volume as in London was Nottingham’s links to Jamaica. Even before crack began to appear, Jamaican criminals on the run, often from London, would regularly lie low in Nottingham with a distant relative or friend. But now the violent gangsters known as Yardies were appearing on the streets. Political turmoil in Jamaica caused many to flee for the United States and the United Kingdom. Many gravitated first to London, then began moving to provincial cities like Nottingham. They hung around the Black and White Café on Radford Road and the Marcus Garvey Centre on Lenton Boulevard, and swaggered around in heavy gold selling rocks down at a cavernous late-night drinking hole on Ilkeston Road, the Tally Ho (later called the Lenton, then the Drum). It was popular with some of the black homeboys, but even they knew not to push it when the Yardies were around. They were all unaware that an undercover cop from London was hanging around too, having managed to convince everyone he was a Yardie. The Tally Ho was seen as an ideal shopfront from which to peddle rocks without the potential danger of bumping into rival posse members, as frequently happened in London, often with fatal consequences. In addition, they had a ready-made market, as the Tally Ho was a favourite haunt for white street girls who would sell their skinny bodies every night on Forest Road for the price of a few rocks of crack.
Politically and socially, Jamaica was going through torrid times. The peaceful movement of Rastafarianism, led by Bob Marley, masked deep troubles. Corrupt politicians working for the two main political parties, the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), were recruiting crack dealers from the ghettos of Kingston and Spanish Town at an alarming rate. These politicians needed the fear the Yardies brought to enforce their will and keep the lid on their own criminal activities. This was complicated further by the fact that Jamaica had become a stop-off point in the shipment of cocaine from South America to the United States. Someone on the island had discovered that if you boiled down the cocaine with some baking soda in a pan you could remove impurities and create a hard rock which, if smoked, could take you to the moon – but only for a brief few minutes. Young Jamaican men soon didn’t care if smoking this stuff was like putting a gun to your head; after just a few tokes from a makeshift pipe fashioned from a beer or pop can, they were ready to sell their souls for the next hit. It was just about the most addictive drug that enforcement agencies had ever come across and pretty soon it was making its way to the UK – and taking a leading role in the most violent crimes in this country. The three things you could be sure of if you had bumped into a Yardie in the early 1990s were that they would have a wad of cash on them, some rocks of crack (or access to them), and, most of all, a firearm close to hand.
The Robinsons were caught up in this. The first evidence of the wave of mayhem that crack would bring came in a quiet street in the Wollaton area on 11 October 1991. Ian Bedward, a twenty-eight-year-old homeboy, had succumbed to the drug and the paranoia it brought on made his tempestuous relationship with partner Sophie Robinson, Douggie Man’s granddaughter (her mother was his eldest daughter Elaine), with whom he had three children, worse still. Bedward was involved in armed robberies in the city, ran various drugs as a courier, and had robbed some drug dealers of their cocaine. He had armed himself, fearing they would come after him. One Tuesday, after a row, Sophie left their house in Whitby Close for a few days to go down to London, leaving the children with him. Ian, who thought she was seeing other men, consoled himself by writing rambling letters that he hoped would make some sense of his turbulent life. They rambled on about how some of the Robinsons were mixing with Yardies and mentioned a gunman called Eaton Green, known as ‘Leon’, who was selling crack around the housing estates of St Ann’s and Radford like a candy store salesman. Bedward became more and more distraught as the hours ticked by and he sat alone with his thoughts. By the next day he could see only one course of action open to him: he lined up his three children, Lorne, aged four, Loren, three, and Lorene, two, and shot them through the head as they lay on the sofa. Then he sat beside them and pulled the trigger of the Colt 45 resting against his head. The bodies were discovered on the Friday when neighbours, worried they hadn’t seen the children and unable to get an answer from the house, called the police. Sophie arrived home the same day, just as police made their grim discovery, and ran down the street screaming hysterically. Two of the children had been killed by the same bullet. One part of the letter Bedward left said, ‘See you in heaven cos down here is hell.’
Detective Peter Coles, who later became head of CID, said the horrific scene was one of the worst he encountered in his police career. ‘It really was truly sad and shocking and just so distressing seeing these little bodies. It was really the first time we had also come across the Yardie phenomenon in terms of violence in the city. We had the letters examined for intelligence purposes, some information was extracted which proved useful. It was the first time we encountered Eaton Green’s name but they were such rambling letters it was hard to make much sense out of them. What we did have was the first bit of information that there was a connection between the Robinsons and Eaton Green.’
Next it was PG Man’s family who had tragedy knocking at their door. Some of his sons had formed a gang with friends from the St Ann’s estate, now known in ghetto terms as the Stanz, and they called themselves the Playboy Posse. In the early 1990s they got into a war with the Meadows Posse, who would also become known later as the Waterfront Gang. It was the beginning of the black-on-black gang violence that was to blight the city intermittently over the next fifteen years. At the heart of it was the territorial drug business and, in particular, cocaine and its derivative crack. A number of the Robinson clan had succumbed to crack by the early 1990s and turned to crime to pay for their drugs. Some of the Robinson girls took to street robbery and prostitution as a means to buy their next rock, organising gangs of shoplifters who would fleece designer ware from the city’s fashion houses or carry out street robberies. The rude boys of the 1980s, with their neat clothes and flash cars, who had earned a significant living off the street girls and weed they traded in, were now virtual down-and-outs, like the prostitutes who worked for them. Crack had created a major economy in its own right as the consumption of the little brown rocks spread like a cancer through the ghetto. One of Douggie Man’s sons, Easton ‘Bubsie’ Robinson, went to prison for six years for robbing women on the street to fund his crack habit (twenty-three years after tasting his first crack pipe, Bubsie was still at it: in 2008, at the age of fifty-seven, he pleaded guilty to shoplifting from the Gap and Madhouse clothes stores to buy crack). Another son had been lifted by the police for attempted murder after violence erupted in a black club where two Birmingham dealers had stolen crack from one of the Robinson’s dealers. Then the third generation of Robinsons started to succumb to crack. Douggie Man’s granddaughter Sophie, who had had the life sucked out of her when her three children were murdered, became a crackhead and began to sell her body on the streets.
Against this backdrop, the men were still able to maintain some semblance of togetherness and organisation through membership of the posses. These small, tight-knit groups gave those living in the ghettos of St Ann’s and the Meadows a sense of meaning; an order among all the chaos that surrounded them. They knew what constituted their patch and who to be wary of, and the Playboy Posse knew they had to be on the lookout for the Posse from the Meadows. No one knows quite how it all started, but by the early 1990s gang life within St Ann’s and the Meadows estates was flourishing. One of the major flashpoints between the gangs, which acted as a catalyst for the war, was ignited when some of the Playboy Posse were ambushed and one of PG Man’s sons was slashed and needed sixty stitches. Four weeks later the Playboy Posse took retribution and attacked five members of the Meadows gang as they came out of a club, leaving one with his skull fractured in two places. Then the rape of a fourteen-year-old girl was alleged against three of the Playboy Posse. More violence followed.
Finally, on 1 August 1993, PG Man’s twenty-one-year-old son Lloyd, who had taken to carrying a machete for self-defence, got into a dispute with some of the Meadows gang. One of Lloyd’s friends had stolen a bike from a youngster and the Meadows crew were not happy about it. They considered it to be disrespect of a grave nature and someone had to pay for it. PG Man’s family had gathered at his house to celebrate the birth of his latest grandson and, after a while, Lloyd and his brother Daston, aged nineteen, went off to the nearby Afro-Caribbean Centre, near Hungerhill Road. Just after midnight, the pair were about to leave the club when they were confronted by around fifteen youths looking for a fight. Daston went to raise his father from bed, but before PG Man could intervene, the Meadows gang had attacked Lloyd, striking him so hard with a baseball bat that the force almost split his head in two. He died three days later in hospital.
PG Man was a broken man from that day on. ‘I saw a boy holding a baseball bat walk behind the crowd, come up behind Lloyd and whack him on the head,’ he later told the Nottingham Evening Post. ‘As he collapsed to the ground, I fell to my knees and put my hands on my head. From that lick I knew he must be dead because it went right through me. I can still hear the crack of the baseball bat against my boy’s head. I was broken down bad by Lloyd’s death. I am not the same person no more.’ The young man who struck the fatal blow, Gary Mayor, a nineteen-year-old amateur boxing champion, was jailed for life for the murder in November 1994. Three more gang members, Sean Cope, aged twenty, Dean Johnson, nineteen, and Simon Rowbottom, twenty, received between three and six years for manslaughter.