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

CHAPTER 12

n the afternoon of 8 November, three months after the Stirland murders, a probe planted inside Radford Road Police Station as part of Operation Salt picked up a conversation between DC Charles Fletcher and Jason Grocock, Fletcher’s former boss at Limey’s clothes store. Colin Gunn was trying to find out what the police had on him. Fletcher explained to Grocock the difficulties he would have in finding out about the murder inquiry and other operations against Gunn because of the secrecy surrounding the investigating units.

‘It wouldn’t be common knowledge to anybody except those who knew they were going to get him,’ said Fletcher. ‘There’s those different squads, murder teams who are looking into various things. You’ve got Stealth as well, which is out of Oxclose Lane, and they’re like their own unit with their own DI’s, DS’s and DC’s. We just fucking deal with the shit on the streets. So as with something like that, it would be quite specialised, it would be kept in-house with a specialised team... Bobby wouldn’t necessarily hear about it because he’s got no fucking need to hear about it. Um, and what Stealth do... they do as a separate entity as a section CID. So we don’t know anything that they do unless we hear about it when we see them in custody or go into the office for a cup of tea or something. But Stealth, I mean Stealth and those operations like that, keep everything dead secret because they don’t like any fucker to know... So, for me, for me to hear that would be, would be rare and it would be an off-chance of me just wandering by and speaking to someone in that team but, but the chance of that are fucking approaching zilch.’

As Fletcher pointed out, ‘For me to find out anything I would have to ring Lincoln and they’d think, who the fuck are you? You’d have to go through the right channels.’

On 25 January, at 5.22pm, another call was made by DC Fletcher to Grocock. Colin Gunn was now worried that he was a wanted man. Their chat was deliberately vague as they tried to skirt around the subject of their call without saying anything too incriminating.

Grocock: ‘But you know me other mate, he can’t work out why that bloke has said to him at the weekend that he’s definitely now wanted and it’s coming up that he isn’t and...’

Fletcher: ‘Right’

Grocock: ‘He was wondering whether or not like, you know if NCIS [the National Criminal Intelligence Service] and things like that are up, would he not put it on the PNC as not to frighten him off.’

Fletcher: ‘Yeah, that’s always that possibility that’s a tactic.’

Grocock: ‘Yeah, just leave it, just leave it, that’s a tactic.’

Fletcher: ‘It’s a tactic that you could do.’

Grocock: ‘Will you check them two out then for me?’

Fletcher: ‘Yeah.’

Grocock: ‘The big fella [Colin Gunn] and, er, the Baz [David Barrett].’

Fletcher: ‘Yeah.’

Grocock: ‘And just give us a tinkle on, um...’

Fletcher: ‘Will do...’

On 4 March 2005, at 14.05pm, video surveillance picked up footage of DC Fletcher putting pieces of paper into his pocket at Radford Road Police Station. Then he made a phone call to Jason Grocock.

Fletcher: ‘I’ve just done a few things, nothing new on er, [Darren] Peters, er, [Jamie] Neil, there’s a couple of bits on, er and there’s a few bits on the, the fella, so I’ve printed that off so’

Grocock: ‘Right.’

Fletcher: ‘So what are you doing tomorrow?’

Grocock: ‘Er, what day is tomorrow, Saturday?’

Fletcher: ‘Mmm, are you working?’

Grocock: ‘We’re in the shop all day.’

Fletcher: ‘Right I’ll probably pop in and come, come and say hello. I’m working an eight, four.’

Grocock: ‘Alright, and what’s that, you’ve got one, one on Neil and, and the big lad’s not, he’s back on is he?’

Fletcher: ‘Yeah, there’s a few bits on there now, nothing fucking remarkable.’

Grocock: ‘And Peters is zero, yeah?’

Fletcher: ‘Yeah I suppose he is, he’s just erm, the last one that was talked about erm, what was the last one that you talked to me about.’

Grocock: Inaudible.

Fletcher: ‘Oh there is more, there’s more, there is a couple on there, sorry.’

Grocock: ‘Right, okay, well that’s cool then, that’s, that’s brilliant then, well I’ll...’

Fletcher: ‘Yeah there is, I think there’s one it’s on about him fucking in hospital or summit and buggering off back to Spain or something.’

Grocock: ‘He what, in hospital then went to Spain?’

Fletcher: ‘Yeah I think that was the one.’

Grocock: ‘Right okay.’

Operation Salt had by then been underway for a year and DC Fletcher’s computer at Radford Road Police Station had been cloned so that all the keystrokes used by the officer on his keyboard could be replicated, showing what he had written and searches he had made or attempted to make on the Force’s intelligence database. From December 2003, Operation Salt logged searches Fletcher made on the Police National Computer for the names Dean Betton and later Craig Moran. Fletcher also searched for Colin Gunn’s name on a regular basis to see whether it was coming up on the Marian Bates murder investigation and on other shootings, including the attempted murder of Joan and John Stirland in September 2003.

Between December 2002 and September 2004, DC Fletcher searched for Gunn’s name on the computer thirty times. He printed out sheets of intelligence at least twenty-five times between those dates. In the wake of Marvyn Bradshaw’s murder and the arrest of Michael O’Brien, Fletcher passed on information on the home of Joan and John Stirland at South View Road, Carlton. Information provided by Fletcher to Colin Gunn included a report about a man who had gone to police saying he had been threatened by Gunn over his domestic situation. Gunn had allegedly told the man, ‘You are a dead man if anything happens to this woman.’ Another report given to Gunn mentioned how he had threatened a police officer with ‘I know where you live’ when he was being questioned. Fletcher also gathered intelligence on Gunn’s connection to a dark-coloured BMW, about houses he owned or was linked to, and details of the pubs police believed that he had financial interests in. There was a report about Gunn smashing a man’s hands with a hammer after the man had lied to him.

Fletcher was also able to tell Gunn the extent of police knowledge about security at Gunn’s home in Revelstoke Way, Rise Park. Fletcher told him that officers were aware of CCTV coverage in the house and that it was relayed to a utility room. Slowly but surely, Fletcher began compromising police investigations into members of the Bestwood Cartel. One prosecution against Darren Peters, a racehorse-owning associate of Colin Gunn, involving a road rage incident in Netherfield, collapsed after Fletcher gave out the name and address of a witness, who was subsequently visited and threatened, leading to him withdrawing his statement. ‘I want to know how the fuck they got my address,’ complained the witness. One of Colin Gunn’s more sociopathic henchmen, who seemed incapable of going out of his home for more than a few minutes without attacking someone, assaulted a man on the estate in 2005. So severe was the beating the man received that it was almost classed as attempted murder: he suffered broken legs and arms. DC Fletcher carried out ‘MOT’ checks on the status of the investigation and the man was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Fletcher told Grocock that no one would be charged unless they could get a statement off the victim; the victim was saying nothing.

DESPITE THE ENORMOUS police pressure on the Bestwood Cartel that winter, they continued to wreak mayhem. It was as though they were untouchable. On the afternoon of 18 December, a gunman walked into the family-run Aspley Pawnbrokers in Aspley Lane in search of thirty-four-year-old Lawrence Aitken. ‘This man wearing a balaclava just came into the shop with a shotgun and shot straight at my leg,’ related Aitken. ‘I fell to the floor in complete agony. I don’t have any idea who may have done this.’ In fact Aitken knew who had ordered the shooting but was so scared he dare not even utter the name of Colin Gunn. His crime was to owe a small debt to Gunn and the shooting was a warning to settle it. His father, Reg, who ran the shop, said they didn’t know whether his son would be able to walk again: ‘Lawrence just said he was off when this bloke came into the shop with a double-barrelled sawn-off shotgun. He pointed it at his ankle and then there was just a bang. It was all over in a few seconds. He was a stocky chap and had a balaclava and dark clothing.’ Aitken underwent seven-and-a-half hours of surgery and two blood transfusions to save the lower half of his right leg.

The gunman was John McSally. After accomplishing his mission, he jumped into a white Vauxhall Astra with two other men inside and drove off. Within a few days, DC Fletcher was passing on details of the police investigation to Gunn via the usual intermediary. ‘Tell your big mate not to worry,’ he told Jason Grocock. ‘The bloke knows who did it but he’s not talking.’ It was another vital tip-off for Gunn. Fletcher was also compromising informants. He gave away details on one file about a woman who Gunn had been with briefly and who said Gunn had told her he was involved in the shootings of Joan and John Stirland. DC Fletcher put Gunn’s mind at rest, texting Grocock that there could never be a prosecution as the evidence was ‘purely circumstantial’.

He passed on more information in January 2005 about a sickening assault involving the Bestwood Cartel in the Lizard Lounge nightclub, when a man had lost part of his ear. Fletcher was on holiday at the time but when texted that ‘the Big Man’ needed to know about it, went straight into Radford Road Police Station and gathered all the intelligence on the attack. He also made checks on behalf of Gunn about an assault on a man in a pub in Nottingham in March 2005 and on a near-fatal assault on another man carried out by one of his henchmen. Fletcher even falsified records in a road traffic accident to prevent the prosecution of two other members of the Cartel who had been pulled over without insurance.

On one occasion Fletcher’s own mistakes on the computer backfired on Colin Gunn’s girlfriend. Victoria Garfoot had received a parking ticket and Gunn rang through to try to get Fletcher to get it cancelled. He went into the computer and punched in the name but he misspelled it and came up with an entry of another woman who had a conviction for prostitution. Fletcher passed on the information to Gunn, with disastrous consequences. ‘Gunn went absolutely ballistic and confronted Victoria, accusing her of being a whore,’ said one officer. ‘Then he gave her a severe beating.’ Victoria would remain loyal to Colin despite numerous police attempts to turn her and described her man in relatively glowing terms to the Nottingham Evening Post: ‘No one says Colin has been an angel. He sells a few bent cars and that sort of thing. He’s being blamed but where is the evidence? The police just don’t like him. But everyone round here likes him. We’re not scum like everyone makes out.’

Two things emerged from the probe into Charles Fletcher. One was positive and the other negative. Several officers were caught in the dragnet that had been set up to catch him. One was a constable called Phil Parr, who worked in the vice section. Parr had a passion for scooters and was friendly with Javade Rashid, who worked at Icon Scooters, which was owned by one of Colin Gunn’s lieutenants, David Barrett. After Fletcher came up with the false information about Gunn’s girlfriend being involved in prostitution, Gunn had become increasingly obsessed with checking out the information. He got Barrett to ask Rashid to ask DC Parr about it because he worked in vice and would probably know. In November 2004 DC Parr received a text on his mobile from Rashid. Parr made the check and then went to the scooter shop to tell Rashid about it. Barrett was there and Gunn was waiting parked up in his BMW nearby, unknown to DC Parr. National Crime Squad officers had the shop under surveillance, something that Barrett later became aware of after being tipped off by someone within the police. PC Parr had no idea Gunn was the final recipient of the information and a promising career was ended as a result, all for ‘doing a favour for a mate’. He admits he failed the highest standards set by the police force by doing the check but he was in no way linked to the criminal gang operated by Gunn, as DC Fletcher had been. ‘I can’t deny I did something that was wrong but I was tarnished with the same brush as Fletcher and there is no way I am a corrupt officer,’ Parr later told me. ‘I did something that I shouldn’t have done but it was a favour for someone I thought was a mate.’ Parr would be jailed for twelve months at Birmingham Crown Court after pleading guilty to misconduct in public office. As he has pointed out, he will have to come to terms with the shame of what he did, but some paedophiles and violent offenders have received lesser jail terms. His career was over and he lost much of any pension he could claim from an otherwise unblemished ten-year career.

A number of other officers were even more hard done by in the fallout that came from the surveillance of Fletcher. Detective Constable John Thorley, a highly respected officer, worked at Radford Road Police Station, near Fletcher’s desk. The probes that had been in place for Fletcher caught him talking in colourful terms about some Yardies who planned to murder an officer outside Oxclose Lane Police Station. Thorley explained what happened to him and another colleague who had been caught on the bugs chatting inappropriately:

‘On June 21, 2005, the phone rang at my home. Charles Fletcher had been arrested. Fletcher was a young trainee detective I’d worked with for several months. He was brash, overconfident and had a tendency to engage mouth before brain. I sighed. An hour or so later my colleagues and I sat and listened to a horror story. We were told Fletcher was a criminal, in league with some of the most violent criminals in the city; he was selling information to criminals who operated extortion rackets and ran Class A drugs. We all knew them well and had seen their handiwork. I’d stood at the foot of a bed in the Queen’s Medical Centre while a man who had had most of a foot removed by a shotgun at point blank range refused to speak. We knew it was a punishment shooting for a debt. The chances of anyone talking to us were nil and so it proved. Through Fletcher, these people had access to everything about us: where we lived, where we socialised, even where my daughter goes to school. How safe were we? He’d betrayed us. That afternoon, two of us were summoned to HQ. Naively, I imagined we were going to be offered support and help in coming to terms with these devastating revelations.

‘To my astonishment, I was served with notices stating I was to be the subject of a disciplinary investigation. For eight months our office had been bugged. Unconnected to any criminal investigation and out of hundreds of hours of recordings, I had been overheard on four occasions making “inappropriate and unprofessional comments”. More seriously and with tedious predictability, the allegation of using racist language also appeared. I’m the first to admit that the language in a CID office can be, at best, irreverent. We’ve attended the post mortems of gunshot victims, cut hanged bodies down from coat hooks and sat across tables from paedophiles that have raped four-year-olds and had to pretend to be sympathetic. Gallows humour is and has always been necessary to remain sane, but always in private.

‘To all intents and purposes my career ended at that moment. I was placed on restricted duties. I was to sit behind a desk doing nothing of value. I was never to do any meaningful work again. Neither I, nor my colleagues, are racist or homophobic. One of us is openly gay. From that moment I was airbrushed from history. It was as if my thirty years had never happened. When one comes near the service’s obsession with racism, an unblemished twenty-nine-year service counts for nothing. I always thought that if ever I was faced with difficulties, I would receive help and guidance. Wrong! Most senior officers were almost behind barricades if I went too close.

‘My despicable crimes by the way – behind closed doors and in private – were nasty remarks about, firstly, a Jamaican who was trying to recruit a ‘shooter’ to have one of us murdered outside Oxclose Lane Police Station as we left work, and secondly, about a woman who had invented a rape allegation that led to two innocent students being incarcerated for hours. I admit, on both occasions, it was quite likely I did make derogatory comments. To refer to a group of people as “Jamaican pond life” as I did could be considered rude. The group I referred to as this were killers and drug dealers. If I had said “Broxtowe pond life” or “St Ann’s pond life”, that is not a problem. What utter nonsense.

‘I retired a year later but was connected with corruption and tainted with racism. I always suspected, but it took me most of my thirty years to discover, that this organisation does not value any individual. Careers and reputations are ruined on a whim. We were treated like a newly-discovered coven of the Ku Klux Klan. Fletcher’s legacy wasn’t only to destroy himself.’

On a positive note, though the fervour associated with the anti-corruption probe ended some unblemished careers, the force tightened up on their procedures for dealing with applications to join the police. Detective Superintendent Russ Foster ensured future applications to work for Nottinghamshire Police were thoroughly vetted in the wake of the Fletcher probe. In August 2007, Foster announced that a six-month investigation had discovered that at least six people, so-called ‘clean skins’ working on behalf of organised crime gangs, had applied for jobs in the force. ‘They were identified and groomed to infiltrate this force with the aim of providing intelligence to city organised crime leaders,’ he said. ‘There was nothing obvious on their applications to suggest who they were. It was only after exhaustive work by me and my team that we identified their associates and their links with some of the biggest crime groups in Nottingham.’

ON 26 JANUARY 2005, Operation Utah, which had been investigating the Bestwood Cartel’s drug-dealing activities, suffered a serious breach of security which sent shockwaves through the team. Two detectives – a constable and a sergeant – from the National Crime Squad were taking tapes for examination to the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham. It was a routine job but given the sensitive nature of the material, only a handful of people knew about it. One part of the tapes had a police interview with Colin Gunn. The other was recorded material from the bugs which had been put in place by the Utah team. The detectives’ job was to process the tapes and, using voice recognition technology, see if the voices matched. On the way back from the job, the two detectives decided to stop off in the Crewe and Harpur pub in Swarkestone, Derbyshire, for a pint. They left all the material in the car, along with their notebooks and other material relating to Operation Utah. This material identified senior officers involved in the job, including Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Davies, the head of Nottinghamshire CID. It also identified a house in Bestwood where police were listening in on conversations between members of the Cartel and a building at Epperstone which was being used as the secret headquarters of Starburst and Utah. The officers were in the pub less than an hour, but in that short time the locks on their car were sprung and all the material stolen. Within two hours, telephone intercepts picked up a call from Newark. A young man was calling Colin Gunn and telling him what was on the material he had stolen. Gunn told him to destroy it.

The ramifications were huge. Once the theft was known, security at Epperstone was stepped up, with twenty-four-hour patrols around the perimeter. The house used for eavesdropping eventually had to be bought by Nottinghamshire Police at a cost of more than £100,000 and the people living in it had to be moved to a safe house and put under witness protection. Then, on 10 February, police received an anonymous letter. It said that there would be an attempt to assassinate two senior Nottinghamshire officers, including DCS Phil Davies. Threats had already been made against Detective Superintendent Ian Waterfield, then head of Operation Stealth, and the Chief Constable himself, Steve Green. The information resulted in Phil Davies having to move out of his house while security was upgraded and the threat diminished. It also led to a briefing for senior officers on how to exit their homes if there was an imminent threat to their life or their families. Two days after the threat was received, John McSally was arrested with five bullets in his pocket. Evidence suggested that McSally was on his way to a job, with a boiler suit in his car and a pair of wellington boots.

To this day there has never been any public acknowledgement of any detailed investigation into the theft of the confidential material by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which later replaced the National Crime Squad, or by any other body. The thief, who has never been named, was quietly dealt with at court in Derby, where he asked for more than 100 other offences, mainly thefts and burglaries, to be taken into consideration. Derbyshire Police, who dealt with the matter, refused to release any information about him on the orders of its Chief Constable Mick Creedon, saying the offender’s life could be at risk.

A senior Nottinghamshire detective involved in Operation Utah told me, ‘When we heard about the material going missing it was like a “Jesus Christ” moment. We thought, what the hell are we dealing with here? Very few people knew what that car was carrying that day. The fact that the theft took place in the car park of a pub in Derbyshire, the fact that someone from Nottingham was the thief and had been in a pub twenty miles away, the fact that that person knew Colin Gunn’s mobile phone number, the fact that Colin Gunn was contacted within a couple of hours of the theft, it was like, well, you have got more chance of winning the lottery than of this being pure coincidence. Someone, somewhere, had told Colin Gunn that that vehicle contained important information and the vehicle was targeted as a result. Something was wrong and we passed on our grave concerns to the relevant people. I’m extremely surprised that SOCA say they didn’t even conduct an inquiry because the National Crime Squad were certainly aware of it and once SOCA took over the National Crime Squad’s responsibilities it would have been passed over to them.’

DAVID GUNN WAS arrested by Nottinghamshire Police involved in Operation Utah that February. The bugs they had placed in the headrest of his BMW had nailed him and he had been caught talking too loosely on the phone. After a few drug shipments were intercepted, Gunn told his associates, ‘They’ve got another load, hope it’s not the whole lot. It’s just a poxy bust really. They are trying to take out the little sergeants, but they can’t get to us, the colonels or captains.’ Gunn was also caught talking to associates on the phone about where he could launder some of his money in South Africa. Police moved in and arrested his forty-one-year-old right-hand man, Terry Witts, who had recently married a schoolteacher. They also moved in on Gunn and arrested him. The pair, along with their friend Kevin Warsop, were linked to small shipment of more than £20,000. Gunn had been watched seeing off a taxi carrying some of the drugs. The Bestwood Cartel was even ripping off its own customers by recutting large amounts of vacuum-packed drugs and then resealing them as if the stuff had come in wholesale. It was just another way to keep profits high, even if the customers were not going to get as high as they were led to believe.

But if there was any relief at the arrest of David Gunn, and the impending arrest of Colin, it would be blown away the following month when I was to personally experience how Chief Constable Steve Green handled the media. I suggested an article for the Sunday Telegraph on the troubles facing Nottinghamshire Police after a number of officers from both the front line and a senior level approached me to voice their concerns about the state of the force. Many claimed it was on the brink of collapse. I had also been told of some of the details of Operation Starburst and I knew there was an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation underway into the shooting of the Stirlands which was indicating there had been serious failings on the part of the force. Nottinghamshire Police were also refusing to give investigators any access to material from the bugging of the Bestwood Cartel, citing legal complications over the ownership of the material. After raising the issue with Daniel Foggo, who worked as a reporter at the Sunday Telegraph, we decided we would first try to contact the person we assumed was head of Operation Starburst. We approached Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Davies and he initially agreed to meet and have a chat about it the following week, but then Davies told me he had spoken to his boss, Steve Green, about our approach and had told him we seemed very well briefed about the challenges facing the force. He said Green had decided he would talk to us if we approached him. Daniel then rang Green, told him what we knew about Starburst and said we were considering running a story about the issues being investigated by the IPCC. Green was clearly unhappy about this, claiming we might compromise covert operations, a dubious claim to make when we were approaching the subject in a responsible manner and would be under legal constraints about what we could print anyway. On Friday, 10 March 2005, Green agreed to an interview over the phone but Operation Starburst was off the agenda.

Daniel Foggo is an experienced reporter and someone who does not pull any punches, so he began to question the Chief Constable about various problems facing the force, based on what we knew. We were both staggered as he began to admit all the failings and pressures the force was under. The interview was completed before the end of Friday afternoon and was tape recorded. When the story emerged on Sunday morning, neither of myself nor Daniel realised the impact it would have. The story made the front page lead of the Sunday Telegraph on 13 March.

POLICE CHIEF: WE CANNOT COPE WITH VIOLENT CRIME

One of Britain’s most senior police officers has admitted that his force is being overwhelmed by violent crime and cannot cope.

Steve Green, the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, said that among the principal causes of the crisis were Government reforms that compelled him to use officers for clerical tasks instead of front-line duties.

Steve Green: ‘We are in a crisis situation.’

The situation was so bad that he was preparing to ‘farm out’ murder investigations to other police forces because his own detectives did not have time to tackle them.

Nottingham has been one of the worst affected areas for gun crime which hit record levels across England and Wales last year.

Mr Green said ministers had a ‘fixation’ with keeping officer numbers up – but had, in fact, been responsible for policies that had taken police away from front-line duties to do jobs that should be carried out by civilian staff, such as writing Home Office reports.

‘We are reeling with the murders,’ he said. ‘We are in a long-standing crisis situation with major crime and it won’t go away overnight. Having police doing back-office jobs is one of the factors [hampering us]. I want to increase the number of operational cops by reducing the numbers doing back-office jobs. It’s frustrating to know that I could make better use of the money I’ve got, but I’m constrained from doing it because officer numbers is a political football. All the parties have the same fixation.’

Mr Green said he was prevented from putting more police into front-line duties because if he reduced the number of officers doing clerical work he would lose a large amount of his funding from the Crime Fighting Fund, a Labour measure that gives extra money to forces that keep officer numbers high.

‘Our accountant has said that if there was a way out of it, he would tell me,’ he said.

Mr Green, whose comments will increase pressure on the Government over its law-and-order policies, said his force was heavily in debt. He regularly had to borrow detectives from other constabularies to tackle a spate of largely drugs-related murders.

‘We are now routinely going out to “foreign” forces to get additional officers.’ One option they were on the verge of adopting was to farm an entire murder inquiry to another force. ‘I’m not aware of any other force ever having done such a thing,’ he said.

Nottingham’s crisis has been prompted by a sharp rise in the number of murders and other violent crimes. Since 2001, the force has had to investigate 21 Category A murders – those classed as being high-profile with no immediate suspect. Before 2000, it was dealing with one Category A murder every 12 to 18 months on average. Its officers are currently running 30 murder investigations.

Nottinghamshire residents are also three times more likely than the national average to have their car broken into, four times as likely to be burgled, almost five times as likely to be robbed, and twice as likely to suffer sexual attack. Nottinghamshire was also among the bottom four of under-performing forces in official figures last year.

Mr Green’s decision to speak out follows another fatal shooting last week. Paul Thomas, 34, had left a pub in Radford, Nottingham, when he was gunned down just after 4.30pm on Thursday.

Firearms offences in England and Wales rose to a high of 24,094 last year with levels in Nottingham the fifth highest per head of population after London, Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said other forces were experiencing similar pressures to Nottinghamshire because of the need for officers to carry out bureaucratic tasks that should be done by civilians. ‘We’ve been raising it with the Government for some months,’ said a spokesman. ‘There is a fixation with police numbers, and an inflexibility over budgets, which is not producing effective policing. We can recruit officers, but not necessarily civilian staff.’

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said Mr Green’s predicament was an example of the Government’s ring-fencing of money, together with forces being swamped with bureaucracy. He said: ‘We will do away with the national policing plan that creates these targets so those police they have can be properly used.’

The story broke as a General Election campaign was about to get underway and crime was top of the agenda. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis wasted no time in wading into the debate. Privately he was critical of Green but publicly he said the comments showed how Chief Constables’ hands were being tied up by red tape across the country by a Home Office which was not funding them adequately. The daily newspapers were champing at the bit to follow up the Sunday Telegraph’s story. For a Chief Constable to be so clearly unable to cope and speak about it publicly was almost unheard of. Green was in the soup as far as the Home Office was concerned, but he would find support from the media and fellow Chief Constables over his stance rather than criticism. Only those who knew what was really going on inside the force knew that many of the problems were linked to his handling of the resources at his disposal.

Nevertheless he realised his job could be under threat and his press officer, Margaret Kirk, began to brief journalists that Green had been ‘blackmailed’ into agreeing to the interview. It was an extraordinary claim to make, effectively alleging we had forced him to tell the truth by committing a criminal offence. We weren’t the only ones who were angry. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police was fuming. The comments from the Chief Constable about his force being in crisis had come only a few weeks after Denis O’Connor, a senior HMIC inspector, had given the force a clean bill of health. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Inspector for HMIC, soon had Home Secretary Charles Clarke knocking on his door demanding answers. Downing Street entered the fray too, with Tony Blair’s official spokesman making a veiled criticism of Green’s leadership. ‘Everyone recognises there are problems in Nottinghamshire but there are different views about the cause of these problems,’ the spokesman told reporters. Home Secretary Clarke demanded an urgent investigation into Green’s claims, which would be carried out by HMIC and, within a couple of days, HMIC investigators contacted the Sunday Telegraph’s editor, Dominic Lawson, to see whether they could get access to the tape recorded interview. He was happy to oblige but said HMIC would have to make a formal request by letter; otherwise, Lawson argued, it could set a precedent for the handing over of privileged material to a third party. In the end HMIC did not follow up its informal request with a letter.

Meanwhile, MP Graham Allen lodged a complaint against Green to the IPCC. ‘I believe he has been guilty of serious misjudgment, not just in giving the interview but in his original decision to take beat officers off the streets of Nottingham,’ Allen told the Observer newspaper. Green, perhaps sensing his job was in jeopardy, told reporters, who by this time were hoping for an all-out war between a Chief Constable and the Home Office, that the interview was a big mistake. ‘For whatever reasons I gave the interview I must concede that the interview itself was not my finest hour,’ he said. ‘With hindsight I was wrong to accept the word crisis during the interview but nevertheless investigating murders is a major challenge to us.’

Marian Bates’s widower, Victor, pulled no punches: ‘Nottingham has never been as lawless as it has been under this Chief Constable. The man is a menace to law and order,’ he told reporters. ‘The way the criminals in Nottingham have been allowed to flourish under his regime is ridiculous. It is frightening. There are less police officers on the street and we now have community wardens who have no powers. It must have cost the lives of over fifteen people over the last two years, including my wife. The criminals have been encouraged by the system that prevails. Crime is now a lively occupation because the chances of being caught are so little.’

Later Green, who would eventually leave Nottinghamshire Police in June 2008, was critical of Victor Bates’s stance, claiming he was being led by others with an agenda of their own. ‘I have listened to what Victor Bates has said and he is perfectly entitled to his opinion,’ he told the Nottingham Evening Post. ‘I have no problem with Victor. I respect what he’s been through too much. It’s the people who have been advising him that are beneath contempt. Their actions have meant that the opportunity Mr Bates had to exercise the power he had to do good was wasted.’ Steve Green also claimed he had fallen into a trap because his mind was preoccupied with the arrest of Colin Gunn. ‘I tried to give the journalist honest answers, as I always do, but I get paid not to fall into elephant traps. I recognise I fell into that one. All I can say is my attention was focused on operational matters and I just didn’t see it coming. On the day I did the interview, Colin Gunn was arrested for the Stirlands’ murder. We should have been in celebration mode; instead, we were fighting that off as best we could.’

Green’s memory was faulty: in fact Colin Gunn was not arrested until Thursday, 17 March 2005, almost a week after the interview was carried out. Nottinghamshire officers picked him up and when they started driving out on the A52 and passed into Lincolnshire, Gunn was surprised.

‘Where are we going?’ he asked.

‘Just a trip to the seaside, Colin,’ replied an officer. ‘Why, are you missing Nottingham already?’

Colin was interviewed at Skegness Police Station by Lincolnshire detectives. ‘I had no direct or indirect involvement with the murders,’ he claimed. ‘John Stirland was known to me as he used to drink with me and my friends. I have never had any bad feelings towards John and Joan Stirland.’ It was, of course, a blatant lie.

By now the drains at his bungalow in Revelstoke Way were severely blocked with phones and SIM cards and other evidential debris. A plumber would be called out some two-and-a-half years later because of damp patches inside the three-bedroom property. He just built over the blocked drain to solve the problem. Who knows what secrets are held on the phones but, to my knowledge, they remain where they are to this day.