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

CHAPTER 14

y the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was clear that new technology now defined our way of communicating and interacting with the rest of the world – including the criminal world. Just as the birth of the pay-as-you-go mobile phone empowered the street drug dealer in his daily task of evading the ‘feds’, so cyberspace became a place where organised crime could prosper in relatively covert comfort and crime lords could galvanise and rally their soldiers more effectively. For law enforcement agencies, these same technologies offered a wealth of intelligence material; it was the mobile phone which convicted Colin Gunn and his cohorts. Nevertheless, by November 2009 it had become apparent to Gunn that the Internet offered him a chance to communicate with his friends and members of the Bestwood gang on a much wider level and with greater speed than the flow of letters he was constantly penning from his prison cell, some of which failed to reach their intended destination due to the high level of security imposed on such a notorious Category A prisoner.

Gunn enjoyed his letter writing and encouraged other prisoners to write to his family on the outside, which resulted in the letterbox of his mum Carol bulging with cards and greetings on birthdays and at Christmas, with regular postings from, among others, one Kenneth Noye, linked to the 1983 Brinks Mat gold bullion job and serving life for the so-called ‘M25 murder’ of Stephen Cameron. Gunn had become friendly with Noye while at Whitemoor prison in Cambridgeshire, where the two had found much common ground. Gunn’s mum kept messages flowing to and from Colin and those he could not contact directly. She even relayed messages between Michael ‘Tricky’ McNee and John ‘Jon Jon’ Russell, who were in different prisons.

Both Colin and David Gunn were moved around the prison system regularly from the date of their incarceration in 2005. In Colin’s case, it was unsurprising, given that he swiftly made a name for himself in prison. First, while on remand at the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison, he and a fellow inmate attacked nine Muslims remanded on terrorist charges after he felt they disrespected Christmas. Then at Frankland Prison he attacked a prisoner who had upset him in the gym, leaving him battered and bruised. In October 2007, he hooked up with fellow inmate David Bieber, an American who had shot dead a West Yorkshire policeman on Boxing Day 2003. The two men were gym fanatics. Bieber hatched an escape plan which involved a helicopter and firearms. Colin Gunn asked him if he could come in on it. The plan was scuppered before it got anywhere and ended up in the pages of the News of the World.

Yet in letters to friends on the Bestwood estate, Colin expressed deep frustration at having been moved several times between the top security prisons at Belmarsh, Frankland and Whitemoor, before finally arriving at Long Lartin prison, in Evesham, in October 2009. Police and prison security were well aware of the ability of both brothers to take over the wings of prisons and had been paying close attention to their activities on the inside. On the outside, representatives of the gang were said to be negotiating with the Turkish mafia to buy a twenty-plus-room property in Cyprus and even to set up a business running a brothel with the consent of local hoodlums. (During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Colin had become a company director of several firms he hoped would help him launder money. The companies have all since been dissolved and Colin was arrested before he had the chance to become a real-life Tony Soprano and take over a waste management company.)

When David came to be released on parole in April 2009, it was immediately clear that the authorities would not be giving him a free bus ticket back to his old haunts. As part of his licence conditions, he was banned from certain areas of Nottingham, including Bestwood, and from key potential meeting locations such as service areas on the M1 motorway. He was to reside at a bail hostel in Northampton until he had proved he was keeping to the terms of his licence. Gunn launched an appeal against these restrictions, claiming that the licence conditions imposed were unreasonably excessive, disproportionate in their impact upon his family and private life, and were not ‘rationally connected’ with the reason for which they were imposed: the protection of the public and his rehabilitation. He also argued that the high level of risk assessment on him that led to these licence conditions was not supported by evidence.

His appeal, however, was rejected by the High Court. So angered was he that he turned to the Nottingham Evening Post to publicise his plight. ‘I have been unfairly treated,’ he said. ‘I was convicted of drugs offences, nothing more, and yet they have ranked me as a danger to the public. I think that is completely wrong.’ He failed to point out that he had been convicted of violent offences in January 1993 and of threats to kill in November 1998, resulting in jail terms totalling more than five years.

He told reporters, ‘I don’t have any grievances against anyone. All I want is to have this ridiculous ban from my home overturned. If I have done anything else wrong, then why don’t they arrest me?’ He was particularly miffed by the argument that crime would rise if he was allowed back on the estate. “That is one thing they keep bringing up to use against me. It is wrong. If it wasn’t for us, it would have been out of hand. And we never used the name “the Bestwood Cartel” either. You don’t speak about your friends like that. We were just a group of school friends.’ He said the restrictions placed on him made it difficult for him to see his six children and three grandchildren, and put forward the unlikely thesis that it was also preventing him getting a ‘proper’ job. ‘I want more access to my kids,’ he added. ‘When they told me I was coming to the hostel, I said to them, “What is there to stop me from fleeing to Spain?” I think that’s why they put the curfew on. I really do believe I was better off in prison. I had better access to my kids from there.’

The fact was within a few weeks of being out he had already hooked up with his old pal Darren Hayden (see Chapter Seven) and the two of them were seen together in a Ferrari visiting haunts in Eastwood and enjoying a meal with another former co-defendant, Shane Bird, who had been cleared with David of a murder conspiracy charge and who had visited him regularly in prison. David asked associates about a pub in Eastwood which he hoped to take over. However, neither he nor Hayden enjoyed freedom for long. Hayden was soon back in prison facing a seven-year sentence after setting up a £1 million amphetamine deal with supplies from associates in Liverpool. The drugs had been stashed away for two years awaiting Hayden’s return from prison. A single fingerprint on the goods, and video surveillance, was enough to convict him at Nottingham Crown Court in February 2010.

Much as David Gunn talked of wanting to shrug off his past, it continued to haunt him. As a result of his appeal to the High Court in April 2009, information came to light about what he and Colin had allegedly been up to in prison. Police had been monitoring both brothers and amassing intelligence on their visitors: to Lowdham Prison in David’s case and Whitemoor in Colin’s case. A submission to the High Court included intelligence from both the prison and police that indicated both brothers were still a danger to the public, and a report from the public protection board MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements) outlined the intelligence they had been presented with:

A police representative reported that David Gunn was part of the Gunn Crime Group and that Colin and David were still working the crime group from within the prison with particular emphasis on Bestwood. There is intelligence to suggest that Colin is first in the hierarchy and that David is second or third in command. Anything that happens in Bestwood is attributed to the Gunns. Crime has decreased in the North of the city – GBH, abduction, control and supply of drugs – since the Gunns have been in prison. Community competence has grown on the estate and a sense of normality has returned. Now that it is known that David Gunn will soon be released the estate is closing down and there is an unwillingness to give police intelligence. Notts Police assess the Gunn organised crime group as being the top threat of harm to the community.

The court also heard prison security reports dating back to July 2007 which claimed the Gunn brothers were involved in ‘gang forming, intimidating staff, had a vast history of drugs, mobile [phone] history, and were an escape risk’. In addition, police had carried out a new intelligence assessment in January 2009 which laid bare some of the fears of the authorities. The assessment stated:

Intelligence suggests that upon his release that Gunn will resume a position of control within the organised crime group and will settle scores with witnesses and others involved in the trial against him and his brother Colin, and with others who he believes have acted inappropriately whilst David has been in prison. There are individuals who are believed to owe money to David Gunn and he will be enforcing these debts on his release. The Gunns are believed to have a contract out on Michael O’Brien, currently serving life and held responsible by the Gunns for the death of Jamie Gunn. David Gunn has close ongoing associations with individuals involved in the supply of firearms and class A drugs and who are believed to deal on behalf of the Gunn brothers. David Gunn is still receiving an income from this activity with some of this money being forwarded to him in prison.

The report stated that David Gunn was still considered a high risk to the public with regard to firearms and class A drugs and came to the conclusion that while in prison ‘David Gunn has continued associating with known criminals and still exercises a significant degree of control within the community. Upon release it is his intention to make his presence more prominent by reasserting himself’.

Gunn, for his part, vigorously denied that he was a gang member or had been concerned with gang activity while serving his sentence. He called his risk assessment ‘ill-founded and inaccurate’ and his lawyer argued there was ‘insufficient hard evidence’ to support it. But Mr Justice Blake, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, was not swayed.

David Gunn also announced his intention to sue Nottinghamshire Police after they mistakenly crushed his 3 series BMW car, which should have been used as part payment in the £18,000 assets recovery case against him. Police were able to retrieve £8,000 from the sale of jewellery and the remainder had been due to come from the sale of the now-obliterated BMW. But David’s decision to go to the media appeared to have backfired. Within a few weeks of speaking to the Evening Post, on 12 August 2009, police arrested him at the bail hostel in Northampton. He was found with more than £3,000 but was able to explain the cash. He was recalled to prison on the basis that he had flagrantly disregarded his curfew and was placed in HMP Ranby, a former army camp at Retford, Nottinghamshire, where he remained until he was shipped out to the Category A prison at Full Sutton, North Yorkshire, the following April. The move to ‘ghost’ him out of Ranby coincided with reports that an inmate had been scolded on the orders of Gunn, though there had also been reports from staff that Gunn was at risk of being attacked himself.

Colin, meanwhile, was also finding that prison life was no holiday camp. In a series of letters sent out from Long Lartin, where he was being held in November 2009, he raged at the authorities’ treatment of him, particularly over prison visits and the opening of his mail. ‘All my visits are in a special room for high risk visits,’ he wrote. ‘The high risk is an escape classification which means there is far more security for me than other Cat A or B prisoners get. At our visit table a screw sits almost on it taking notes of all the conversations ... I’m trying to keep my head down here. I need to get off the Managing Challenging Behaviour Strategy they put me on. Its not a good look.’

He also revealed that he was glad he had been moved from Whitemoor, as the regime at Long Lartin was more relaxed. ‘I was at Whitemoor for 18 months and was relentlessly pursued by the security department who seemed to think that I was the only criminal in there. My name was put up for anything that went off in there; assaults, drugs, phones – you name it. All this without one bit of evidence, all intelligence which we all know means “made up” and the word intelligence means we are never to see this on paper. Long Lartin was a good move for me, really. Things was only going to get worse at Whitemoor. Things got so bad for me there the security department started opening my legal mail ... I took none of this lying down and let my pen become my sword. I had lots of meetings with the security governor at Whitemoor, all along the lines of me being “influential” and the prison service getting lots of security reports about me, at one stage 70 per cent of the intel reports involved me. This is absolute crap. It was just a phrase to use to refer me to their ultimate goal of putting me in isolation. Early October I had the mufty squad at my door [MUFTI is the acronym for prison officers dressed in riot gear and expert in restraint techniques], videotaped and taken off to segregation for concerns of bullying. I asked who I had bullied and again it came back “intell”. Ha, Ha.’

At the same time, some of Gunn’s family members and associates in Bestwood were raided by the police as part of a money laundering investigation. By now even the guards at Whitemoor appeared to have had enough of Gunn’s name turning up on their intelligence reports. ‘Family and friends had the pigs raiding for money laundering ... coincidence?... yes right. Nothing was found, the pigs searching for masses of money took computers, phones etc ... Then on October 22, I was laying on my bed mid afternoon and they came and told me I was moving. As usual when I move anywhere its total secrecy, the whole prison gets locked down, phones turned off etc and then I am on the move flanked by armed police and helicopter, all overkill but what do you expect. So now I am at Long Lartin on a new wing. This is the 3rd time I have been here and about the 20th time I have been moved in the four and a half years since I have been locked up.’

Colin signed off his letter in the usual manner, ‘Chin up, chest out. Thugz love.’

One of the reasons Whitemoor prison officials had come down on him was because Gunn’s supporters had set up a website for him to put forward his case. He and his supporters viewed this book as a wholesale character assassination which had damaged his credibility. But the publicity the website received in the Nottingham media antagonised people on the outside, including Graham Allen, the MP for Nottingham North, who was outraged that such a prisoner should be allowed a public platform. The website was quickly frozen and Gunn was refused contact with the individuals running it. Nevertheless, he was so pleased that the website had worked – it had more than 15,000 visitors in the short time it was fully active – that he began to think more on the idea of using the Internet as a platform to get his message out.

In one of his first missives from Long Lartin, he was clearly in a cheery mood: ‘Good news from seeing the security governor, he said he had no problem with me blogging and its [sic] not illegal to do. I have provided him with all the up to date laws on it. Unlike Whitemoor it does not concern them here.’ By early December 2009, friends of Colin had set up a Facebook page and messages began to fly back and forth at such a rate it was hard to believe he was not responding on a mobile himself. The bulk of the material however was undoubtedly being exchanged on prison visits and through the normal mail channels, including further letters which were posted onto the website. On January 10, he posted a new letter on Facebook which revealed he had spent some time over Christmas brooding over the matters that had left him sat in a cell and feeling bitter about his predicament.

‘I was blamed for most things that went on in Nottingham and of course without evidence. I have never had a drug charge against me and my criminal convictions before this conviction was in my younger years. I am no angel but I had fuck all to do with the murders and I aim to show fresh evidence this year. Cannot comment too much or the letter will be delayed or not sent at all. I’ll admit I’m up against it but I will never give in ... others out there who I thought was friends have already given up on me and I do not hear a thing from people who I honestly thought was friends. It turns out those people have no balls and was mere cowards who sought protection. Rats, they know who they are. I will bump into those people again I know that.’

He also had strong words to say about this book and its author. ‘What a joke, shows what an idiot [Carl] Fellstrom is ... my Gracie could have wrote a better book. Worst of all though, than Fellstrom himself, was all the gossipers, the people who believed it. Anyone who knows me knows I would never have done any of the shit Fellstrom wrote about ... Anyone who believed it, fuck ’em, rats, I’d love anyone to have the balls to say it to my face. Cowards all chatting shit with a hooter full of Columbian ha ha. Still I suppose it gave the mugs something to chat about.’

In the later years of his criminal life, it was true that Colin Gunn played less of a direct role in the terror that was visited upon his enemies; instead he directed others to do it. But as the judge at the Stirlands’ murder trial, Mr Justice Treacy, put it, ‘To your gang, your word was law. You would, I am sure, do the same thing all over again if it suited your book.’

Gunn was particularly incensed by the implication that he had been helpful to some police officers and he published letters from Nottinghamshire Police that stated categorically that he had never been registered as an informant with them. He failed to mention the informal and covert meetings he had had with police officers, stretching over a number of years, in which he had sought to manipulate the criminal justice system to his own advantage, with some degree of success. During 2002, a detective constable under surveillance by Nottinghamshire’s anti-corruption unit was seen meeting with Colin Gunn several times. The officer was subsequently questioned under caution but was never charged with any offence.

By Christmas 2009, Gunn’s Facebook page was live and would become, in the opinion of the authorities, dangerous. He accumulated more than five hundred Facebook ‘friends’ in just a few weeks and posted on a regular basis. This was achieved by receiving the hard copy of messages sent to his Facebook page from friends on visits or through the post. He would then write out the messages to be copied back onto the site as replies. However, it did appear the speed of the replies indicated in some cases he was replying directly back onto the site and not using intermediaries. In one case he was replying to Michael McNee, who was at HMP Frankland in Durham and, at this point, certainly had access to a mobile phone to send out messages on Facebook. In one exchange between the two men on 13 December 2009, McNee, who was using the name Riley McNee, wrote to Colin, ‘Yes my pal ... hope ur cool chin up chest out. U just remember who the best lukin 1 from Bestwood is (ur the second one bro lol) love ya mate tricky xx.’ McNee even used Facebook to end a relationship with one girl and begin a new one with a young woman who changed her surname to his within the space of a few weeks.

Gunn was also using Facebook to communicate with the ‘friends of ours’ network from Mansfield, the Dawes Cartel, with whom he had been pally since the 1970s. One posting, from Helen Dawes, wife of Dawes Cartel general John, said, ‘Hi hun ... just a little something to make you chuckle ... Hezza took out five screws [prison officers] yesterday and Johnny received your letters yesterday. He doing ok. Luv lots H x.’ Colin also made contact with Darren Peters, convicted for his part in the police corruption case against Charles Fletcher, who was now free and eager to visit Gunn at Long Lartin prison.

By February 2010, my own investigation was coming to the startling conclusion that there were hundreds of inmates now using Facebook through mobiles smuggled into prison. Other ‘faces’ mentioned earlier in this book were using the network to chat to people on the outside, including Ashley Graham, serving life for a brutal murder of Roy Henry, who was going under the names Jheezy De Niro and Mista J. Darren Kirby, a Bestwood Cartel runners caught with a huge shipment of ecstasy, went under the name Daz Kirby. Gavin Dawes, jailed for fourteen years for the biggest heroin seizure ever in Nottinghamshire. Dawes joined the Free Colin Gunn Facebook page and in his own posts boasted that life was ‘cool’ inside HMP Lowdham, where he joked he had his own ‘en suite cell, Sky television and an xbox’. Shortly after this posting, he adopted the surname Beeton, his mother’s name, presumably to avoid detection.

The Ministry of Justice was not blind to the problem of prisoners using mobile phones. Years of poor wages for prison staff had led some officers to ‘go native’, taking bribes from prisoners in order to bring in phones, drugs and other contraband. During Nottinghamshire Police’s Operation Utah into the Gunns, a number of prison officers had been identified as having taken bribes from the Bestwood Cartel to provide favours, though none was ever charged. Corruption has been a problem which has grown in the prison system in parallel with the pernicious black economy. Dealers could expect to get up to ten times more for drugs inside a prison than on the outside. The introduction of mandatory drug tests had led to more prisoners turning away from cannabis towards class A drugs, which could be flushed from the system more quickly, cannabis sometimes showing up on a test more than thirty days after last being used. Some prisoners were building up large debts from their addiction to drugs and would be subjected to bullying and threats which might even extend to their families on the outside. The nature of the relationship between prisoner and keeper places staff in a potentially vulnerable position whereby the tail can wag the dog, resulting in some prison officers being compromised. All these ingredients provided for a flourishing organised crime network within the system, where gang leaders could take over the wings of some prisons and not only continue to run their outside empires but also expand their networks to take in the prison community.

The upshot of all this is a prison system which is not only unfit for purpose but also creating more criminality. Over the past five years I have come across numerous examples of people sent to prison who had minor drug issues before they went in but left at the end of their sentence with full blown class A drug addictions. Often those people will be back in the system within a few months as they drift back into a life of crime in order to pay for addictions which first claimed them inside prison. In one case, a young woman who had been sent to prison for continual shoplifting walked out after twelve months with a substantial heroin habit. Before her fall from grace, ‘Helen’ had held a steady job. Then her marriage broke down and she began to drink too much, eventually getting sacked. Unable to pay her bills or look after her family, she resorted to shoplifting. After her prison sentence, she was desperate to kick her habit but it had such a grip on her that she not only sank from shoplifting to prostitution but also began to corrupt other young women, some barely sixteen, into her business, and they also became heroin users. Sitting in the squalor of a terraced house in Normanton, Derby, it was profoundly sad listening to her among these teenagers, as she confidently jacked up her veins and tried to kid herself that the following week she was ‘going straight, getting off the smack and getting a proper job’. It was a pipe dream and she was soon back in prison.

THE FACEBOOK SITE was a fascinating cauldron of information which showed just how Nottingham’s criminals and others further afield were connected to each other. Beefs or arguments regularly blew up over the pages of the site between rival gang members all over the country. Nottingham was no exception. On some pages, the colours and bandanas of the various gangs were displayed: red for St Ann’s, black for Radford, blue for Meadows and green for Sneinton. Gang members paraded their homespun philosophies, rapping lines from well known songs and often using their street names with acronyms attached to denote their area or stance on life. MPR stood for either Money + Power = Respect or Make Paper Regardless. GWOP stood for George Washington On Paper, as in the US dollar bill. TOPV denoted someone from the Top Valley area; RAD, a member from Radford or NG7; SV, a gang member with affiliations to the St Ann’s area or ‘Stannzville’; WFG, the Waterfront gang from the Meadows or NG2 area of the city. Snentz meant Sneinton and BPG meant Base Pound Gangster from the Basford area of the city. MOB was also a favourite abbreviation. Taken from a song by Tupac Shakur, the US rapper gunned down by an LA gang in 1996, the abbreviation denotes ‘Money Over Bitches’, meaning money was more important to these wannabe gangsters than the love of a woman; without money the street dealer would not be able to keep the ‘babe’ on his arm. A favourite oneliner also culled, though not exclusively, from Tupac was ‘only God can judge me’, furthering the idea that they were operating outside the normal rules of society. The avatars that these young men used on their Facebook pages included the usual suspects: John Wayne, John Gotti, Tony Montana, the Cuban gangster portrayed by Al Pacino in Scarface, Tony Soprano, and Don Corleone from The Godfather. These were fictional characters in the main, yet in the eyes of the young gangsters they portrayed the values they aspired to.

It was apparent that we now had a generation of drug dealers growing up who were so influenced by the gangsta rap scene and fictional characters from gangland dramas that they were importing a fake ghetto into their lives, a way of life which in reality existed only in a very limited way. This was a life they had, in part, decided to embrace because they found little of any meaning in the world. Secondly the young ‘gully’ or street drug dealers were not just following the money trail in a random way; ‘making paper’ was their ideal, their religion. They personified the purest form of street capitalism. The hoodies were the new entrepreneurs, aggressively taking over the drug dealing markets with their commercial, albeit illegal, products. Supply and demand was their mantra and if necessary they would use extreme force to dominate those markets. Money was their God and would lead them to power and ultimately the respect of their peers, something they believed they could only achieve otherwise as a rap artist or professional footballer. Anyone who got in their way in the pursuit of this dream or ‘dissed’ their beliefs was to be regarded as the enemy. Universally, the Facebook pages within this group of young people showed contempt for the police and rule of law, often backing groups such ‘I hate Police’ and such like. Street life was their world and there a different rule of law operated: dog eat dog. Often the commentary on their pages would include ‘shouts’ on the status updates, like ‘Free all my SV Niggas’, referring to criminals from the St Ann’s area who had been locked up. Elsewhere there would be a few lines about how ‘the Feds’ or ‘snitches’ were undermining their dealing activities. Homage was paid to firearms, often illustrated by pictures lifted off the Internet of an assortment of weapons. In many cases there were photographs taken on mobiles of young people in possession of firearms, whether real or replica, in locations in Nottingham.

The lingo deployed by many of these youths was often a mix of Jamaican patois and gangsta rap and sometimes bore little relation to the language of their own families in Nottingham; indeed some were from white European and even Asian backgrounds. Nevertheless they believed this was their voice. Video games like Grand Theft Auto and television dramas such as The Wire were also playing a powerful role in shaping this ‘lost generation’ in terms of how they perceived the world around them. In effect, the ghetto was now being defined by a fictional world and not a real one and the danger was that the more the young guns embraced that life, the more likely it was that someone would use a firearm or a blade to make the fictional life they were leading that much more real.

By January 2010, Colin Gunn’s Facebook presence was about to be terminated. Having seen him accumulate more than 550 ‘friends’ on his own page and another 2,000 on the Free Colin Gunn page, the authorities believed his continued use of the medium was a threat to their efforts to stymie his influence from within prison. On January 23, he wrote what would be the final letter posted onto the site. He was in a cheery mood and was keen to set the record straight on what had happened to his relationship with Victoria Garfoot, his long term common-law wife and mother of his children.

‘Everyone knows me and Victoria fell out and I got rid about a year ago. Had to and I believe Victoria’s mental state was suffering. I told her to go find someone else and she did. I have no problem with that at all, just so everyone knows. Nothing was done behind my back. I truly believe that Victoria deserves some happiness. Don’t get me wrong, it was a tough decision, but there was nothing there for me or from me. Just clearing that up in case people was wondering why I allowed it. I won’t comment on her new fellah, I think we all know the dance there, and all I’ll say is “what a guy” ha ha fuck em. They deserve each other. There’s certain rules that have to be kept and I’m happy for her then.’

Mysteriously, properties linked to Victoria’s relatives and her ‘new fellah’ suffered a number of suspicious fires during 2009 and the early part of 2010. The fires were investigated and confirmed as arson attacks but there was no evidence that they were linked to Gunn.

Gunn carried on his missive, looking forward to the inquest into the Stirlands’ deaths and remarking that he hoped more information would come to light which could help him appeal against his conviction. He also joked that he wanted more letters from ‘the ladies’ and asked that they include photographs as he ‘needed something to work with’ while alone in his prison cell. But it was the final lines of his letter which were to land him once more on the front pages of a national newspaper. ‘I’m sound though, strong as fuck and plodding on,’ he wrote. ‘I will be home one day and I can’t wait to see the look in certain people’s eyes and see the fear of me being there, and those no good cunts who have done nothing for me. Of course I wouldn’t do anything to these people, I’m too nice a man. A look would do. Til next time then when I will enlighten you as to the behaviour of certain individuals to a little plan I executed a while back, suckers. Chin up Chest out. Thugz love, Colin.’

Whether his bitterness had got the better of him or whether he intended the words to be taken as a joke among Cartel members, they were seized upon as evidence that he was intending to take some sort of revenge. On January 31 the Sunday Times published a story about it. Justice Secretary Jack Straw quickly became involved and negotiated a rapid response from the owners of Facebook in the United States to get the pages shut down immediately, without any recourse to the complicated laws which govern such material over the Internet and which otherwise would have taken weeks to resolve. ‘We have made requests to Facebook to remove thirty prisoners’ sites and they have responded positively to that with no single refusal, within forty-eight hours,’ said Straw. ‘It’s unlawful and it’s against prison rules.’ Gunn was reportedly fuming, not least because, in the aftermath of the exposure of the story, the prison’s governor decided that he must also lose any privileges he had accumulated and should be placed in segregation without access to private phone calls. Michael McNee’s site was taken down too but within a week he was back, having taken over the Facebook profile which had belonged to his mother.

The authorities had been considering the cellphone problem for some time, as well as other pieces of technology, such as gaming consoles, which provided a capability for communication with the outside world. In 2008 alone, prison staff in the UK seized more than 4,000 phones and SIM cards which had been smuggled in for prisoners. In August 2006, the power that such phones gave to prisoners became evident when nineteen-year-old Liverpool gang member Liam ‘Smigger’ Smith visited a friend at Altcourse prison on Merseyside. Smith, a member of the Strand gang from Norris Green, had a verbal spat with inmate Ryan Lloyd, a member of the rival Croxteth Crew, in the visiting area. When visiting time ended, Smith left the prison, but not before Lloyd, who was on remand for firearms offences, had made a call from an illicit phone to summon his crew to Altcourse. Within forty minutes, Smith had been shot in the back of the head at point blank range outside the prison gates. Lloyd, also nineteen, and four other young men were subsequently convicted for their part in the murder.

In May 2009, Bill Hughes, the director general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, expressed concern that some gang leaders were also using games consoles to pass on coded messages in forums. Prisoners, he said, had also been using the consoles to charge up contraband mobile phones. An officer working at a prison in the north west of England told me that the contraband culture was ‘endemic’ where he was working. ‘On the wing I have been working on, the prisoners don’t even try to hide it,’ he said. ‘They can get pretty much anything in there and the officers just turn a blind eye to it even though there is also info about packages coming in. Some evenings when you are doing the rounds you can hear the mobile phones ringing and smell the weed they are smoking, it’s that obvious. But no-one says anything because they all want a quiet life.’ In May 2010, a Government study concluded that as many as one in every ten prison officers were corruptly accepting money to help gangsters flood prisons with drugs and mobile phones. The report, from the Policy Exchange thinktank, cited prisons in Nottingham, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, among others, as having acute corruption problems and said eighty-five per cent of inmates interviewed found it easy to get hold of drugs.

The authorities changed tack and announced that they were considering signal-blocking technology. By the beginning of 2010, three prisons had been picked for a trial to see if the technology could be introduced without having an impact on people going about their normal business with mobile phones near the perimeter of a prison. At the time of writing, there was a plan to roll out the programme nationwide. Colin Gunn, meanwhile, had been forced back into the old ‘snail mail’ routine of handwritten letters, hoping that sensitive material sent through his legal channels as privileged documents would not be opened by the prison’s security unit. His flirtation with the Internet was over for now and 2010 was looking a bad year for him in other ways. News reached him that in early March his close friend and a stalwart within the gang, Luke Scriven, had hung himself while on day release from prison after a bust-up with his estranged wife. Gunn organised help for the family for the funeral from his prison cell along with a personal message of condolence placed in the Nottingham Evening Post.

Indeed there had been a number of tragedies on the Bestwood estate in the preceding twelve months, including the death of Stuart Lownds, stabbed at a party by twenty-two-year-old Robbie Mather, who at the time was the boyfriend of Laura Gunn, David’s daughter. Mather received an eight-year sentence for manslaughter in May 2010. Jak Gunn, Colin’s eighteen-year-old son, was arrested after being involved in an incident in September 2009 in which an eighteen-year-old was stabbed by members of the Raiderz gang from Top Valley. A subsequent trial at Nottingham Crown Court resulted in Jak being convicted but walking free because the time he had served awaiting trial was enough to cover the twelve-month sentence he received for violent disorder. He was sentenced by Judge Dudley Bennett, who told him, ‘I think to some extent you were taken advantage of because of the notoriety of your father. I’m satisfied you had no idea about this knife.’ Colin, who had predicted that his son would be home by March in letters to friends some two months earlier, was very happy with the result.

However, by that same March, Colin had been told to pack his bags once more for a return to HMP Belmarsh. He told friends he was glad to be out of Long Lartin but the travel distance to Woolwich would inevitably mean fewer visitors. There was no appeal in sight, despite all the bragging, and the inquest into the death of the Stirlands would not deliver anything that questioned the case against him. His supporters continued to be overly optimistic, blind to the overwhelming evidence against the ‘big man’. Their Free Colin Gunn page carried on until it was deemed to have breached Facebook’s rules on offensive content, though the only thing of offence on the site appeared to be pictures of Colin Gunn posing bare-chested against the bonnets of various top-of-the-range cars bearing the GUNNY numberplate. Facebook took down the page in May 2010, on the day it announced its response to privacy invasion fears among users, but it re-emerged the following day under the name Supporters of Colin Gunn. Gunn’s Category A status continued to be questioned by his supporters but it was appearing increasingly likely that his thirty-plus years future starring at the walls of a prison cell had been cemented.