Hoods: The Gangs of Nottingham, A Study in Organised Crime (2012)

CHAPTER 11

amie Gunn took his best mate Marvyn Bradshaw’s death very badly. He just wanted to get out of his head at every opportunity. He drank heavily and snorted lines of cocaine. His uncle Colin found out and had given him a beating, telling him to stay off the stuff – something other members of the family were not happy about. Colin had even been ‘sent to Coventry’ for a few weeks. Meanwhile Jamie continued on his mission to get as wasted as he could: nothing his mother Julie or stepfather Dave Shefford did seemed to have any effect.

In July 2004, Michael O’Brien went on trial for Bradshaw’s murder. The Gunn family wondered how Jamie would cope with it all. He couldn’t bring himself to go to court and see O’Brien in the dock. Instead other relatives would go. Colin especially wanted to stare O’Brien in the face, the face of the man who had dared to try to kill his nephew. Gary Salmon, the other man police wanted in connection with the murder, was still missing. Colin was happy to hear rumours circulating that he had disposed of not only Gary Salmon but also James Brodie, the young man who had shot Marian Bates and had not been seen since thirty-six hours after the murder. It all added to his reputation, as far as he was concerned.

On 7 July, tensions began to spill over within the courtroom at Nottingham Crown Court. During a break in proceedings, Colin approached the dock and O’Brien squared up to him, intimating to Gunn that there was a bullet waiting for him. ‘Hey Colin, I’ve got something for you,’ said O’Brien as Gunn walked away from the dock. ‘Tell fat Colin I’ve got something for him or perhaps something is coming his way.’ Gunn had to be restrained and ushered from the courtroom. He was advised not to return while the case was on.

Six days later, the courtroom again descended into chaos. O’Brien had been found guilty and was being sentenced to a minimum of twenty-four years in jail when he launched a tirade of abuse at the family of Marvyn Bradshaw. He threw a tumbler of water over them and shouted as he received a twenty-four-year sentence, ‘Hey you, your son’s head looked like a doughnut. It had a big hole with red in the middle. I’m not bothered you know, I’m a bad boy. It means nothing to me. I can do that standing on my head. I know where you live as well.’

Colin Gunn was incensed by the comments. Attempts had been made already to get to O’Brien while in prison but had come to nothing. Police had become aware that the Bestwood Cartel had even corrupted prison officers and they had taken precautions to ensure O’Brien was safe. Gunn began thinking about revenge from another angle. He was sure that they could track down O’Brien’s mother, Joan Stirland. He knew they were in Lincolnshire somewhere because he had traced a phone number for them. Word began to reach Joan’s daughter Rosie that the family could be in danger again as a result of O’Brien’s comments. After several months of quiet, just when they thought they were getting back to normal, the nightmare was back.

On 13 July, shortly after her son was jailed for life, Mrs Stirland rang Rosie and told her she was really upset about what Michael had said. Crying, she said, ‘I can’t believe he said that to the family. I want to go and see them and apologise. He should never have said that to them.’

‘Mum, I really don’t think that’s a good idea,’ Rosie told her. ‘We are all at risk because of what he has said. Just leave it and stay away. Maybe you should ring the police and ask them what sort of risk there is after this.’

Joan had last contacted Nottinghamshire Police on 19 April 2004 and spoken to a senior officer. She was keen to know how far police had got investigating the shooting at their home in September 2003. The answer was they had got almost nothing. Joan told the officer she had been worried because a few weeks earlier she had spotted one of the Gunn brothers, along with other members of the Bestwood Cartel, in Skegness. Following her son’s courtroom outburst, she rang the police the next day and told them she thought the Bestwood Cartel might be trying to get to the family after what her son had said. They told her not to worry; they were keeping an eye on things and would let the family know if anything happened. According to Phil Davies, Nottinghamshire Police also held a meeting and decided for the first time that they should inform their counterparts in Lincolnshire that Joan and John Stirland were living in their area.

Six days later, officers monitoring the Bestwood Cartel became aware that a firearm was being moved into the Boston area of Lincolnshire so that a shooting could be carried out. They sat and waited, keeping tabs on the movements of Colin Gunn in particular. The Utah team had been busy making huge inroads into the Bestwood Cartel’s drug operations – bugs had been placed during the autumn of 2003 and they were now achieving the desired results. The biggest bust took place on the A52 just outside Nottingham in April 2005. Darren Kirby, one of the low-level runners for the gang, was on his way back from Liverpool, having picked up a huge consignment of drugs, when he was pulled over by police. They claimed he had a faulty light on his car but in fact electronic surveillance had indicated exactly who Kirby was, what he was carrying and where he was going well before he left Liverpool – the faulty light story was concocted to lay a false trail so as not to compromise the surveillance methods.

When officers asked to search the thirty-one-year old’s van, they found six holdalls crammed full of ecstasy – around 600,000 tablets. Tests later revealed the tablets, embossed with the Heineken and Playstation logos, had a very high active MDMA content of around 70 per cent. They had probably originated in the Netherlands. It was the second largest ecstasy haul by police in the UK, with a street value of some £3 million. Kirby said he had been paid just £500 for the driving job and needed the money to pay off gambling debts. He would receive a fifteen-year jail term, reduced to thirteen years on appeal, after admitting his guilt.

Before that, in June 2004, police had intercepted a huge shipment of amphetamines and ecstasy near Runcorn which was on its way back to the Bestwood Cartel. The Cartel put pressure on one of the couriers involved: someone must have been talking to the police, they said. The courier wrongly assumed his girlfriend had stitched him up – in fact the information had come from police surveillance – and told the Cartel. Two men wearing boiler suits went to her home in Bestwood, claiming they had to deliver a pizza. She refused to answer the door. Two days later, the same two men in boiler suits strode up to the house and fired a number of shots through the window. The twenty-one-year-old was carrying her thirteen-month-old baby boy in her arms as the shots shattered the window. She was hit by two bullets, which narrowly missed her baby, but lived to tell the tale.

Police intelligence indicated that one of the shooters was a twenty-six-year-old junior member of the Cartel who was himself shot for botching a kidnap job on behalf of the Cartel. He allowed the kidnap victim, who had been abducted because of a £200 debt, to go free, and in retribution Colin Gunn sent the terrifying John McSally to shoot him for his mistake. McSally was supposed to kill him but was only able to wound him in the shoulder. The twenty-six-year-old was charged with the attempted murder of Katrina Hancock and two counts of possession of a firearm but the charges were later dropped on advice that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ against him.

On 11 June, police busted forty-one-year-old Andrew Gascoine and thirty-three-year-old Jason Carroll, two Cartel foot soldiers. Both had large quantities of drugs in their houses and cars which were going to be cut up and distributed to smaller dealers. They searched Gascoine’s Rover car and found nearly a kilo of cocaine, worth £95,700, in the passenger foot well and a bag of cocaine worth £19,400 in the glove compartment, as well as sheets of paper with names and phone numbers. At Gascoine’s house they found £149,100 of cocaine in his washing machine, bringing his total stash to £264,200.

The police then went to Carroll’s house in Gainsford Crescent, searched him and found he was carrying a few grams of cocaine and £1,440 in cash. He also had some paper with a list of names, phone numbers and amounts of money. Police found £74,100 of cocaine in a cupboard under the sink. There was £7,260 of amphetamines in his freezer, 181 ecstasy tablets worth £905 in a vase and a coffee tin with some cocaine and broken up ecstasy tablets. He had £800 stuffed into a jacket in a wardrobe, electronic scales and a chemical used to cut drugs. His total stash of drugs was worth £83,065. Both men pleaded guilty and were given ten-year sentences in December 2004.

More members of the Bestwood Cartel were arrested after a bungled armed raid on a city centre casino on 11 November 2004. The gunman, Martin Hogan, was jailed for twelve years and his accomplice David Martin got ten years for the hold-up at the Victoria Club in Victoria Street. In passing the sentences, Judge Andrew Hamilton referred to the branding of Nottingham as the most dangerous city in England. ‘I visit a number of institutions to talk to students and one of the first questions they ask is, “Am I going to be safe in Nottingham?” and, “Am I going to be shot in Nottingham?” I can assure the public that judges will do everything to ensure that those who commit crime will be given corresponding sentences.’ Hogan, forty-nine, formerly of Birchfield Road, Arnold, was found guilty of robbery and possession of an imitation firearm after a trial at Nottingham Crown Court in April 2006. Martin, twenty-seven, of Kneeton Vale, Sherwood, admitted robbery, possession of an imitation firearm and a separate offence of affray. He received an extra eighteen months for that offence, to be served after the longer sentence.

The robbers had distinguished themselves by committing a catalogue of errors. Hogan, a convicted thief and burglar, allowed a scarf covering his face to slip during the raid. He pointed a gun at the receptionist before ushering her and other members of staff into a corner of the casino while Martin, armed with a claw hammer, emptied cash into a sports bag. The men tried to make their escape through a fire door but found it locked. It meant they had to turn back and leave through the main entrance, the court had heard. Another of the gang, Vincent Hawkins made a poor job of setting light to the getaway vehicle. He burnt himself so severely he had to call an ambulance and spent five days in a hospital’s burns unit. Hawkins, twenty-two, received an eighteen-month prison sentence after admitting arson. Detectives used mobile phone records to trace all three’s movements.

BACK IN BESTWOOD, the Gunn family was getting worried about the impact that Michael O’Brien’s trial was having on Jamie. He was going on drug-fuelled benders on a nightly basis with some members of the Cartel, including Michael ‘Tricky’ McNee. Jamie’s mum, Julie, tried to keep him in but he would say he was nipping out for a bit and then disappear for days on end. Jamie couldn’t get the vision of Marvyn dying from his head, he couldn’t even look at pictures of his best friend – every time the newspaper ran stories about O’Brien’s trial, it brought everything back. Jamie was in self-destruct mode; he didn’t care what happened to him.

On 2 August 2004, twenty-one-year-old Jamie Gunn was found lying on his bed at home in South Glade Road. His family couldn’t wake him. His body had given up – the official cause of death was pneumonia – and his five-and-a-half month old son Rhiece would grow up without even knowing him. The outpouring of grief from the members of the Bestwood Cartel was overwhelming. Colin was down near Hampton Lodge, near Warwick, when David Gunn finally reached him just after 9.30am that day. Colin phoned Jamie’s friend Michael ‘Tricky’ McNee immediately; maybe he knew something. Then Colin phoned another of Jamie’s friends, ‘John John’ Russell, to tell him about Jamie’s death. Tricky McNee hadn’t seen Jamie since Sunday. Colin was crying uncontrollably; Jamie was like a son to him. There was also some guilt: perhaps he shouldn’t have given Jamie such a hard time about the drug-taking, Colin thought, but no, he wasn’t to blame for Jamie’s death. It was someone else and that someone else would have to pay. An eye for an eye. Two must die. One for Marv and one for Jamie.

The day after Jamie’s body was found Tricky McNee told his brother, John, what had happened. John McNee was locked up at Ranby Prison, near Retford, and the phone calls were being routinely bugged. Tricky revealed to his older brother that he had been drowning his sorrows with senior members of the Bestwood Cartel in the Royal Hunt pub. ‘I can’t believe it’s happened,’ he said. ‘I only saw Jamie on Sunday. I had the big man [Colin Gunn] with me, he was in tears. I’ve had Baz on the phone as well in tears. It’s hit Colin and Baz [David Barrett] really, really badly. I’m fucking off to Scotland for a week. It’s going to take two weeks for anything to happen anyway.’

Colin had already made it clear that there would be revenge after holding an army council-style summit at the pub the day after Jamie’s death. No point going for Michael O’Brien; this was personal now and his cold heart was dreaming up the cruellest revenge he could think of, something that would leave O’Brien and his sisters, Rosie and Tonette, in more pain than could ever be achieved by taking his own life away. Colin didn’t need his lines of cocaine to make him feel confident. He felt supreme already. He had been implicated in no less than four murders and more than fifty shootings and he hadn’t been charged with a single crime since 1998. He was invincible.

Nevertheless precautions would need to be taken, including buying some new pay-as-you-go phones for the job. They already had access to a couple of clean guns, Beretta 9000s – a gangster’s best friend, reliable and deadly. Tricky would not be going to Scotland after all. A flurry of phone calls were already being made to try to trace Gunn’s targets and the contacts the gang had in British Telecom were working their magic. Joan and John Stirland were effectively walking dead.

Just a few days after Jamie’s death, Joan received a call from Nottinghamshire Police.

‘Emotions are running high, Joan,’ the officer said. ‘Just watch your back.’

Joan phoned her daughter Rosie late that night: ‘Rosie, I’m really scared. I think the Gunns are going all out to try and get us and you and Tonette. I want you to get out the house now.’

‘Mum, I’m not getting the kids up, it’s past midnight. Ring the police and ask them what you should do.’

A few minutes later, an officer from Nottinghamshire Police, rang through to Rosie.

‘Your mum has asked me to call you because she’s upset,’ he said. ‘She’s heard some more stuff about the people from Bestwood.’

Rosie was angry. ‘Well I’m not being funny but you’re the police officer. We’ve been hearing we are in danger for months now but you would have moved us if we were. You’re the ones who know what’s going on – what do you think?’

‘Well, Rosie, I think your mum is overreacting,’ the officer told her, according to Rosie’s account. ‘To be honest I think it’s all a load of pie in the sky.’

THE DAY AFTER Jamie Gunn’s death, Colin Gunn began planning the most audacious and brutal crime of his career. He would use weapons smuggled into the country from Latvia by a Polish lorry driver. They were clean Beretta 9000S pistols. No history, no comeback. Colin contacted a man from the Carlton area of Nottingham called Kevin Holm, whose father, Raymond, was best friends with John Stirland and had visited the couple in April that year. Colin knew this because Kevin Holm’s sister, Holly, lived with thirty-eight-year-old Shane Bird, a long-time associate of the Gunns. Bird had served a jail term for his involvement in large-scale cigarette smuggling with Robert Briggs-Price.

During 3 August, there was frantic activity on Colin Gunn’s phone. He was calling Holm and Bird, trying to get information about where Joan and John Stirland lived. By that afternoon he had their phone number and postcode but no full address. He asked Bird to find out more through his contacts. One of them was a former British Telecom worker called Stephen Poundall. Bird told Poundall he needed to know the address of a J. Stirland in Lincolnshire. Poundall phoned his mate Anthony Kelly, who worked for British Telecom in Nottingham. Kelly couldn’t access records for Lincolnshire so he phoned another friend, Andrew Pickering. By 8am on 5 August, after a series of exhaustive checks carried out by his former work colleagues, Poundall had the address of Joan and John Stirland. And by 8.43am that day, he had phoned Bird to let him know.

Bird spent the next hour trying to get through to Colin Gunn, until Gunn eventually answered his phone at 9.47am.

‘It’s not Sutton on Sea. It’s Trusthorpe.’

The call lasted just a few seconds but it was all he needed. Gunn phoned Michael ‘Tricky’ McNee at 10.14am.

‘Tricky? Put Scotland on the backburner. The job’s on so get yourself sorted.’

McNee had been chosen as one of the shooters. He was itching to exact revenge for Jamie’s death. The identity of the other shooter had not yet been decided – it might be John Russell, who Colin phoned a few minutes after speaking to McNee, but Colin was also pumping himself up to do it himself, such was his guilt and rage over Jamie’s death.

At 10.37am, after speaking to Gunn, Bird rang Stephen Poundall. ‘Thanks for all your help, mate,’ said Bird. ‘There will be a drink in it for you so don’t worry.’

Poundall, Pickering and Kelly had all unwittingly been used in a grand conspiracy. As with many others, they will have to live with their actions for the rest of their lives. Bird, from Carlton Hill, Nottingham, would later claim in court that the phone calls between him and Poundall were in order to do a favour for another man, who had asked him for the phone number of his aunt, Joan Stirland. The day the gang got confirmation of Joan and John Stirland’s address, they began to work out the logistics of the operation and travelled over to Lincolnshire to case the house at Radio St Peter’s. Colin Gunn drove over with nineteen-year-old Tricky McNee in the car.

The classified section of the Nottingham Evening Post would be filled with obituaries for Jamie Gunn for the next two weeks, in an unprecedented outpouring of grief for a nineteen-year-old who had achieved little of note in his short life. Nevertheless, there were many people who had had dealings with the Gunn brothers who knew it was in their own interests to show some respect; there was even a notice from Godfrey Hibbert, who had looked after drugs for the Cartel to his own cost. The funeral was set for Friday, 13 August, at St Mary’s Church near Bulwell town centre. Notice went out to the people of Bestwood and Bulwell that they would be expected to show their respects by attending. Jamie would be buried near his best friend Marvyn Bradshaw at Wilford Cemetery.

John John Russell and Tricky McNee sent their own death notice to the Nottingham Evening Post. It read:

GUNN Jamie. Bro, we still don’t believe it, you are still with us. If not by our side, then in our hearts and souls. Don’t for one minute think we will ever forget you. You are in our thoughts every minute of the day. Just can’t believe you’re gone Bro. Love you to bits always. Deepest sympathy to Julie, Sheff and family. From Tricky and John John

ON 4 AUGUST, Colin and David Gunn, Michael McNee, John Russell and others who have never been identified met at the Kingfisher caravan site, where David had a caravan. David stayed there for a few days while Colin drove back and forth from Nottingham. David was back in Nottingham by 8 August, while McNee and Russell took his place at the caravan. At 6.45pm that day, Colin went into a Woolworths store in Skegness and bought a T-mobile Sagem pay-as-you-go phone to contact other members of the gang. All the gang would be using pay-as-you-go mobiles with no history. For years the Cartel had used this method of communication, often buying their phones from a shop called Dr Unlock in Bulwell. A clean mobile was an absolute necessity in their line of business.

David Gunn texted his brother.

‘What time are you here Fats? The bits are ready. Three of them. I’ve got them built and bought some menthol.’

David knew about firearms, how to acquire them and put them together. His police record said as much. The Italian-made 9mm 9000S came in three parts and menthol was often used to clean the semi-automatic handguns so they had a smooth action. However, David would later give an entirely different explanation for his text message to Colin. ‘I’m texting him to tell him I have got some spliffs rolled,’ he claimed. ‘Colin couldn’t roll a spliff to save his life so I would do it for him. The menthol referred to menthol-flavoured cigarettes that I put into the joints, giving them a minty cool flavour that he liked. At the end of it, apart from you putting me in a few places using my phone, you haven’t really got me doing anything. I am shocked that you have got me here.’

JOHN RUSSELL WAS busy smoking himself stupid while Tricky McNee drank and fidgeted. A takeway meal had been delivered to the caravan. It was 7 August. Colin, John John and Tricky had been reconnoitring at Radio St Peters and Colin had driven over to Trusthorpe three times that day. It was obsessive last-minute planning to make sure that nothing could go wrong. A black Volkswagen Passat, stolen a few weeks earlier from a house in Nottingham, would be used to drive two gunmen to and from the target house, then afterwards would be ditched and burned. They had already found an isolated spot about two miles away in Crawcroft Lane to dispose of the car – it was perfect, no houses nearby. The shooters would then be transported by another car back to the caravan at Ingoldmells or Nottingham, if necessary.

Russell and McNee made another trip to the Stirlands’ house late on the Saturday evening to satisfy themselves about the layout of the property and to ease any niggling, last-minute doubts – though Russell was nearly caught when one of the neighbours spotted him leaping over the Stirlands’ garden fence. When the morning of 8 August broke, it held all the promise of optimism that sunny mornings have – and so it was for Joan and John Stirland when they woke to the sun streaming into their chalet.

They had barely had breakfast when their neighbour called round. ‘I just thought you ought to know that I saw a prowler jump over your fence last night,’ she told Joan. ‘I think we might have disturbed them because they just ran off.’

The sunshine went from Joan Stirland’s face. She didn’t hide her worries well.

‘Oh, right. I had better tell John about it.’

Joan went back inside to phone Nottinghamshire Police. She felt apprehensive.

Five miles away, at the caravan park, Russell and McNee were awaiting their orders from Colin Gunn. They wouldn’t have to wait long. By 1pm they were acting the fools on the promenade of Trusthorpe. Colin had told them to blend in like holidaymakers and so Russell bought a kite, which they attempted to fly. They chatted up a couple of girls on the promenade, regaling the young women with stories about Nottingham and how they should meet up for a drink later. Then, at about 2pm, Colin rang and gave the order to strike. Perhaps he was close to Radio St Peter’s – if he was then he would have seen the Stirlands’ neighbour leave her house with relatives to go for a walk. She would not be returning until after 4pm. It was a good time to commit a murder, with few witnesses in the vicinity to hear the gunshots.

The VW Passat drove up onto the kerb next to the chalet and the hazard lights came on. The two gunmen moved swiftly out of the car, carrying a holdall which hid the Berettas. The blue overalls and caps and silver gloves they wore gave Joan and John Stirland the impression they were there on official business. Perhaps it was something to do with the call they had made to the police? Either way, the assassins walked straight into the house and carried out their deed with swift precision. Bullet casings lay strewn all over the floor. Joan and John Stirland had been murdered in cold blood by 2.20pm.

As the assassins left the house a taxi driver spotted them getting into the car. They screeched off towards Crawcroft Lane, tailgating a car as they tried to overtake on the narrow lanes. Whoever was at the wheel of the VW Passat drove like a madman and the two gunmen were seen arguing as their car sped down the road. Before setting the vehicle alight, Tricky McNee dumped a load of bullet casings into the car – it would all help to burn the car to a cinder and destroy any forensic evidence. By 3pm the two assassins were back at the Kingfisher Caravan Park in Ingoldmells. By the evening they would be laughing, having a few pints and even texting the girls they had met on the promenade earlier. Colin Gunn had planned the assassination meticulously.

WITHIN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of the murders, journalists had made the link between Mr and Mrs Stirland’s brutal slaying and the jailing of her son Michael O’Brien at Nottingham Crown Court a few weeks earlier. The story was all over the national papers by the Tuesday morning.

WERE SEASIDE COUPLE SHOT IN REVENGE?

Daily Mail

COUPLE SHOT DEAD IN GANG REVENGE AT THE SEASIDE: MIDDLE AGED VICTIMS LINKED TO PUB KILLER

Daily Telegraph

MYSTERY KILLERS GUN DOWN TWO PERFECT GRANDPARENTS IN THEIR SEASIDE HOME; REVENGE OF THE HITMEN

The Express

COUPLE’S NEW LIFE ENDS IN MURDER: POLICE FIND BODIES AFTER TIP OFF

The Guardian

EXECUTION: GANGLAND MURDER OF SNEERING KILLER’S FAMILY

The Mirror

2 EXECUTED IN ‘MURDER FEUD’

The Sun

COUPLE’S MURDER IS LINKED TO PUB SHOOTING CASE

The Times

All focus shifted towards Jamie Gunn’s funeral, which was held the following Friday. Jamie’s mother, Julie, gave a tearful interview to the newspapers but journalists who tried to speak to other members of the family, such as Colin Gunn, were chased down the road with baseball bats. Julie described how Jamie had lost the will to live after seeing his best mate murdered. She said she had heard the rumours about the Stirlands but it was ‘nowt to do with us’.

‘Jamie couldn’t look at a picture of Marvyn for ages – he just used to break down,’ said Julie. ‘It took nine months for him to say Marvyn’s name again. No adult should have to see what he had seen. The estate is eerie at the moment. It’s in shock. The support we have had has been amazing. Some people have to deal with it on their own but we have had an army.’ But the army was crumbling. Everyone knew Colin Gunn was behind the Stirlands’ murders and Jamie’s funeral would be the last show of any significant support for the Bestwood Cartel. One former member said, ‘Yeah there were the attacks on this person or that but most of that was business, keeping people in line and off their patch. When the Stirlands got done, that was it. People started seeing what was happening. Colin was out of control. You can’t go off shooting someone’s grandmother just to get at someone else. That was Colin’s downfall. There will still be people who try and say he’s a good ’un and he got stitched up by the cops but he did a truly evil thing that day and people started seeing him in a different light. That was the day he lost the support of the estate.’

More than 1,000 people turned out for Jamie’s funeral. A black, horse-drawn carriage took the coffin through the streets of Bulwell and up to Wilford Hill Crematorium after the service. The streets were not only lined with hundreds of locals but also Mercedes and BMWs. It was a depressing day, full of menacing darkness and teeming rain and men in black suits, wearing dark shades as if they had just walked off the set of Reservoir Dogs – only this was for real. It was a gangster’s funeral and Jamie Gunn was buried in a brand new Lacoste tracksuit specially bought by the family. After the service the local vicar, Reverend Christopher Gale, said: ‘I did think about calling for there to be no revenge, but it’s a difficult time and you have to be sensitive. You have to remember that people are grieving the loss of their nineteen-year-old son.’

A few weeks later, the family of Joan Stirland attended her funeral at Wilford Hill Crematorium. It was a much quieter affair. The imprisoned Michael O’Brien did not attend either his mother’s funeral or John Stirland’s the previous week. The family could not even bury their dead in peace. Helicopters swarmed overhead and men in dark uniforms patrolled the perimeter of the graveyard with semi-automatic guns. It took police more than twenty-four hours to go and see Joan’s daughter Rosie, to inform her of her mother’s and stepfather’s murder. They didn’t even realise she was at risk. A dedicated witness protection team didn’t exist until 2005 in Nottinghamshire and several officers who worked witness protection had breakdowns – they had never been properly trained for the task. Rosie Stirland was scathing about the way the matter was handled.

‘They turned up at 4.30 in the morning, two police officers,’ she said. ‘They said, “We’ve got some news for you, you might want to sit down. There’s been an incident in Lincolnshire, two people are deceased.” I said, “Who?” They said, “We believe it’s John and Joan Stirland and they’ve been shot and they are dead,” basically. I said, “You know who’s done it, you’d better go and arrest the Gunnies, hadn’t you?” They said, “Well, can you notify the rest of the family now and we’ll leave you to it,” and they walked out. They weren’t even there five minutes. I didn’t know what to do next. I said to my partner, “I can’t believe they’ve left us.”

‘Lincolnshire Police rang me the next afternoon and asked if the Notts Police had been to see me yet. They said, “We’ve got your sister Tonette but who’s looking after you?” They said I should complain about Notts Police. They sent someone down from Lincolnshire Police who spoke to me and then asked me if I would identify my mum. From that minute, we were put in a hotel with my sister and our mobile phones taken off us and we were told we couldn’t go back to Nottingham. We were kept under armed guard and couldn’t even be allowed out of the hotel room and if anyone saw us we had to be moved. I spoke to Lincs Police and said, “You knew she was in danger and so why didn’t you go straight round to my mum’s house?” They said, “Oh, she didn’t want flashing lights.” I said, “She meant she didn’t want people drawing attention to her, not that she didn’t want them to hurry up. She didn’t want panda cars, not that she didn’t want them to come round.” She was frightened to death.

‘For my mum’s funeral, we couldn’t even grieve properly. I gave instructions for her to be buried in her own clothes. I found out afterwards from the funeral parlour that she was buried in a hospital gown. The funeral itself was appalling. I had to sign a document that if I went it could result in my injury or death. I went, obviously. The whole road was closed off specially for it. I sat and told the officer in charge we had wanted the horse and carriage and he said, “We would have accommodated that, we told Lincs we would do whatever you wanted.” He said, “I’m not very happy about that.” It really upset us at the time. I don’t understand what was going on with these two forces. To be honest, I’ve not been back to the cemetery since that day. I’ve asked them if they could arrange it and they said no. It’s like they’ve got rid of us now, after everything that happened with my mum, we’ve now been told we don’t fall under the criteria for witness protection because we weren’t actually witnesses. I said, “Well what do we fall under?” And they said, “We don’t know.” I changed my surname and I did that myself, they wouldn’t do it for me.

‘The police kept us in Lincolnshire for at least two weeks. We were in a hotel overlooking a lake for about the first four days, then we were moved to a disused agricultural college in Lincs. It was in a right state, all the firearms police were downstairs and we were upstairs, me and my partner and my kids, my sister and her partner and her kids. We had a room each. It was appalling, there were no carpets on the floor, the kitchenette was dirty and if we wanted any shopping they had to bring it to us. The kids weren’t allowed to play in the field at the back. The firearms guys didn’t want to sit outside with them.

‘My partner at the time needed to go home to sort a few things out. They said they would take him home and bring him back the same day. I got a phone call at night time saying, “He doesn’t want to be a part of this, he wants to finish with you and he isn’t coming back.” I was like, what? I had a mobile phone I hadn’t given to the police and spoke to my partner and he said, “Are you all right? What’s going on? They said they would come back and get me tomorrow. But they’ve rung me up and said you don’t want me to come back.” I said, “No, they’ve told me you don’t want to come back.” He said, “No, no,” and he was going mad. I went mental and walked out. I told them they were just trying to save money, the way I saw it. I walked six miles to the nearest village being followed by them. I phoned my partner and asked him to come and pick me up. The witness protection people said they would drive me to my partner and come and collect us in a few days.

‘I just want a normal life now. Everything was cleared out of our homes and put into storage. We were in a privately rented house for eighteen months and that was furnished. When I actually got my own home they said they will bring the stuff down. But everything was green with mould. All the clothes had been chewed by mice, half of it was destroyed. They didn’t even empty the fridge, there was food in there that had been in there for eighteen months. Even the cooker had oil in the tray. My mum’s things were delivered to me and had just been thrown into boxes, all the stuff was chewed by mice.

‘The only time I’d been to the house in Trusthorpe was in February 2004 before mum died and this shows you how frightened she was. She met me at the station and when we got off the train we sat at the station for thirty minutes, waiting to see if we knew anyone who got off the train to see if I’d been followed. She wouldn’t leave, her and John. That’s how scared she was. So for them to say she didn’t want the police to come round is bullshit. My mum was terrified, she was frightened for her life and for them to make out that she was blase about it but she was not at all. If she was she would have gone back to Nottingham.’

In the days that followed, there were a lot of drawn faces at Nottinghamshire Police headquarters. The murders had not only shaken the most hardened of officers but they now realised they were in the middle of a huge mess. Senior officers wondered why nothing had been picked up on the bugs – the National Crime Squad officers carrying out surveillance had not alerted them to any specific information that indicated a double slaying was about to take place, and all the main members of the Cartel were being watched and listened to round the clock. But the clues were already there, particularly after Michael O’Brien’s trial and the death of Jamie Gunn. It seems incredible that no one realised the extreme danger the couple were in. For their part, Lincolnshire Police were angry. They soon discovered that they had not been briefed fully of threats towards the Stirlands and if they had been given a comprehensive history about the couple, as Nottinghamshire claimed, they had no evidence to show for it.

No love was lost between the two forces. An employment tribunal back in 1996, in which a young female detective from Lincolnshire sued her force for sex discrimination, had soured relations for years with Nottinghamshire. Initial inquiries into the matter – which led to the detective, Cydena Fleming, receiving a substantial payout after suffering a vendetta at the hands of senior male colleagues – were conducted by Nottinghamshire officers and this led to bad blood with some of their Lincolnshire counterparts. Nevertheless, Detective Superintendent Graham White, who headed the Lincolnshire Police investigation into the Stirlands’ murder, was determined to bring the culprits to justice.

Everyone knew who had carried out the killings; it was as plain as day. Evidence would be needed, however, and that evidence was in the technology which had given birth to the mobile phone. Analysis began on phone numbers used on the day of the murder in the Trusthorpe area; computer programmes analysed and matched those numbers with any known to be used by members of the Bestwood Cartel or which had been later used in Nottingham. Gradually the numbers were whittled down. The use of pay-as-you-go phones made the checking more protracted but eventually officers isolated numbers which they could carry out some meaningful checks on. One was a phone which had been bought in a Woolworths store in Skegness at 6.30pm on 4 August. It was a T-Mobile Sagem. When officers scanned CCTV footage of the High Street from around that time, they saw the unmistakably burly, shaven-headed figure of Colin Gunn walking near the traffic lights. From that phone they derived other numbers that had been called. Most had gone dead the day of the murder but a few were still active. By early September, police began to reel in members of the gang.

AS IF THE murders of Marian Bates and the Stirlands were not enough, the tragic killing of a fourteen-year-old girl was to bring the capricious violence of the city’s gangs into even starker relief. Danielle Beccan was gunned down while walking home from the annual Goose Fair, held every October in Forest Fields. It was had become an event often used by the rival gangs from the NG Triangle to settle long-standing disputes. Police were often tipped off about impending trouble but in October 2004 there were no such warnings.

In the early hours of 9 October, Danielle was with a large group of friends as they entered the Chase area of St Ann’s. Danielle was no angel. She had probably smoked cannabis that night, according to what was later found in her bloodstream, and had a lot more money in her pocket than her mum could account for. She mixed with many families who were dealing drugs on the estate, but was about as innocent as she could be given that St Ann’s life was running through her veins. She had grown up with crime all around her and had recently been living with her father, Dale, in Derby, who was holding large amounts of cannabis at the time. Just five days before Danielle’s death, Dale, who had moved away from St Ann’s in 1995, was at Derby Crown Court pleading guilty to possessing and growing highly potent skunk cannabis. In a subsequent court case less than a year later, he was convicted of possessing skunk and was again given a rehabilitation order. Danielle, or ‘Baby D’ as she was known on the street, had decided to move back to Nottingham where her mum Paula and many of the friends she had grown up with lived. It was a decision with fatal consequences.

At about 12.30am, as the youngsters walked from Valley Road, a gold Citroen Xsara saloon appeared and drove towards them. The car appeared to stall, then its engine revved and one of the tinted windows on the passenger side opened. Three shots were fired, popping like firecrackers. The youngsters scattered, screaming – all except Danielle, who fell to the ground. The others saw a gloved hand came out through the car window making the sign of a W, signifying the Waterfront Gang, as the car drove off. Danielle was just yards from the safety of her home and her mother rushed out to tend to her. But it was too late. Danielle’s last words to her mother were, ‘I’m not going to make it ... I’m dying.’ She lost consciousness and, despite attempts at the Queens Medical Centre to save her, died soon after she arrived at casualty.

Meadows gang members Junior ‘Prentice’ Andrews and Mark ‘Yardie’ Kelly were arrested among twenty others during Operation Holly, after Kelly’s car was traced following the shooting. Andrews had come out of prison just a few months earlier after being sentenced to four years for a brutal robbery. He was a small-time heroin dealer on the Meadows estate, but was heavily into gang culture and rap music. Sometimes he carried a small handgun in a Prada bag around his neck. Andrews had a number of tattoos on his body suggesting gang membership, including ‘NG2’, signifying the Meadows estate, a smoking gun, the initials ‘WFG’, signifying Waterfront Gang, and ‘TRU’, meaning The Real Untouchables. Crucially police seized a mobile phone belonging to him that contained a long rap message. It was footage of him walking through St Ann’s in the early hours on his own. On the footage, recorded just a few days before Danielle’s murder, Andrews was heard talking into the phone as he recorded road signs in St Ann’s. He rapped into the phone with a patois lilt:

I’m here, Prentice, on my own like a real ‘G’,

Waterfront’s most wanted. I’m on the creep.

I haven’t even got no gun. I go anywhere on my own.

I’m a real killer, you can’t see any Waterfront man come this way.

I robbed nuff man down here.

Which Waterfront man can say they’ve been down here at two o’clock in the morning? Look I’m here on my own.

Now you get me, look at that Prentice on his own rolling around the Ville [St Ann’s] like it’s the Meadows.

I don’t really know anybody like me who’s a real killer. I come up here, I haven’t even got my bullet-proof vest. I’ve got one at home.

Prentice walking about the St Ann’s Ville this time of year with no gun, no vest, all I got is one broomstick.

Waterfront, I’ve been, I’ve sawn and I’ve conquered.

On another recording, Andrews was heard rapping, ‘When we shoot to kill we shoot the Ville [St Ann’s] for real...how many niggers are going to get popped before you realise it’s ride or die. That means I’m a ride you’re going to die.’

Andrews and Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life, with a minimum tariff of thirty-two years each in prison. Kelly’s tariff was reduced to twenty-nine years on appeal. He had been born in Jamaica, hence his ‘Yardie Mark’ nickname, but had strong gang connections to Birmingham and eventually became a member of the Raiders gang from Smethwick. This gang had strong links with the infamous Johnson Crew, whose war with the Burger Bar Crew in Birmingham culminated in the 2001 New Year’s Day murders of Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis outside a hair salon. The Raiders helped supply drugs to the Meadows gangs. For all the bravado that he showed, Andrews had not killed before and it was highly unlikely that he intended to shoot Danielle Beccan that night. The bullet that killed her was almost certainly a ricochet off either the pavement or a building before hitting Danielle in the abdomen. Kelly and Andrews had gone to Clifton that night after drinking with a group of young men in the Toll Bridge; they even got into a chat with professional footballer who was in the pub. Bolstered by some cocaine they had snorted in the toilets of the Toll Bridge, Andrews and Kelly then went on to burgle a property in Clifton. They had been looking for someone who owed them money, and their mission then took them to St Ann’s, but they had been unable to locate the person they were after. When they saw the crowd walking through St Ann’s, someone in the car decided to let off a few rounds to tell them that the Meadows had been there. There were at least two, probably three others, in the car when Danielle was shot dead and fingerprints taken from the murder car were matched to three individuals known to police: all were young men who had links to the killers and the Meadows but all had alibis for the time of the murder. Of course they could have innocently been in the car on a previous occasion, but it helped not one bit in terms of closure on the case for Danielle Beccan’s family, who were left with the feeling that not all those responsible had been caught.