Hoods: The Gangs of Nottingham, A Study in Organised Crime (2012)
ne man who has not featured yet in the pages of this book remains the most powerful organised crime figure in Nottingham. For legal reasons we shall call him the Taxman. The Taxman is a legend in his own right, controlling the money end of drug dealing throughout the East Midlands. He also has legitimate business interests stretching across the country. Many drug dealers who need collateral for the products they will smuggle into the UK will go to the Taxman for funding. It is a profitable route for them if they believe they can turn around their drugs quickly to beat his extortionate interest rates. If their shipment gets busted they know what to expect: they may be in hock to the Taxman for the rest of their lives. The Taxman prefers his borrowers not to pay up in full so the bill keeps going up and up with the interest. He is known to take protection money when business executives come to him seeking help after being pursued by other crooks. On one occasion a businessman who was being threatened by the Bestwood Cartel approached the Taxman to sort it out, saying he was not prepared to pay the Cartel but would pay the Taxman if he could deal with it. The Taxman said it would cost a couple of grand to do it and, true to form, the matter was sorted. What the businessman was not aware of was that the Taxman split the money with the Bestwood Cartel.
The Taxman has had business dealings with other villains such as Wayne Hardy, Dave Francis and members of the Dawes Cartel. He is probably worth in the region of £50 million. Most of all it is the climate of fear that he generates, and not his wealth, which enables the Taxman to consolidate his power. The police have questioned him several times but they have never yet managed to nail him; he has the ability to slip from their grasp every time. On one occasion, National Crime Squad detectives came close after they stumbled across what they believed was a multi-million-pound money laundering exercise. It had involved a major land development that went bust after large amounts of money had been invested, not least several million pounds of his. At least that was what the paperwork showed. Detectives believed that in reality he was probably ‘losing’ money that had come in to him in cash from trade in illegal products. After a two-year investigation sifting through all the financial records for the deal, they had enough, they believed, to put a file together for the Crown Prosecution Service. It was not enough for the lawyers and because no one was talking, they didn’t have a case.
He has taken over companies which have been about to go to the wall owing money to him and has used these companies to launder some of his illegal millions. The wall of silence that pervades his everyday work means that he can go about it safe in the knowledge that it is highly unlikely that anyone will squeal on him or get close enough to be able to hurt him. The other major factor that prevents law enforcement agencies getting close to him is that he has friends in the police. The Taxman has a number of former police officers who he can call upon for help and some of them have even gone on to work for him. One senior officer told me, ‘I’m getting sick and tired of losing officers and the following day I find out that he has gone to work for [the Taxman]. It often means that he is aware whether we are snooping around him and he can then adapt to any investigation and close up any chinks in his armoury.’
He is able legitimately to have large amounts of cash going through his books at any one time and that is the kind of business that drug dealers like best of all. It means that they can wash the money and it will not be traceable without an extremely determined investigation. The Taxman also knows that senior police officers are loathe to sanction any major investigations into him for fear of failing and falling foul of the expensive lawyers he can afford to hire. He is well respected and known by almost all the major villains in Nottingham and by many legitimate businessmen as well.
He does not overtly display his wealth but lives comfortably with his wife and children just a few miles from the city in a house worth around £750,000. He also resolves disputes such as problems between rival criminal gangs and has a huge influence within the criminal traveller community. On one occasion, a man charged with killing a member of the travelling community was under threat after the court case against him collapsed. He went to see the Taxman to sort it out, otherwise he would be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. The dispute was resolved but for twelve months the man was forced to carry out money collecting duties for the Taxman, visiting poor families who had been so desperate they had borrowed money and had fallen behind with payments.
The authorities continue to keep a close check on the Taxman and he was arrested again in the spring of 2008 as a major drugs trial involving members of the Dawes Cartel was being prepared. The Serious Organised Crime Agency wanted to question him about transactions with Gary Hardy, the business partner of John and Rob Dawes. They believed Hardy sent him money for the sale of drugs in city nightclubs. The Taxman had already given officers from SOCA his explanation and they went on their way. He remains as elusive as ever.
No sooner had police dealt with John Dawes than they began to set their sights on Hardy. He had been spotted at the scene of a drugs deal involving Dawes and police suspicions grew that he was a senior member of the Dawes Cartel. On 23 May 2005, Operation Normality was about to be brought to its conclusion with the arrest of John Dawes. With a decision having been made to arrest Dawes at the earliest opportunity, undercover police followed Dawes diligently that day. They knew Dawes had a meeting that day to pick up some money but they were not sure who would turn up at the liaison. Dawes hung around at a junction in Sutton-in-Ashfield town centre until a black Porsche appeared at high speed. It stopped at the junction long enough for John Dawes to get into the passenger seat. Gary Hardy was the driver. A plastic bag, which it later transpired contained £14,000 in cash, was handed to Dawes by Hardy, who promptly sped off in his Porsche without looking back. The police officers had been given no instructions as to what to do as far as Hardy was concerned, so they let him go. Dawes was arrested with the money. In interviews later Dawes refused to admit that Hardy was the man in the car who had given him the money, save to say that the money was for Apex Windows.
Hardy was, on the face of it, a successful businessman with his company, Apex Windows, showing more than £1 million of assets and enjoying ever-increasing profits. He was also a former chairman of local football side Eastwood Town FC. Hardy went to trial in June 2008, along with his brother Paul and mother June Muers, accused of conspiring to supply heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis. Also accused was Carl Busby who faced money laundering allegations. The trial was held under the tightest security ever seen at Nottingham Crown Court, with a procession of police cars carrying secret witnesses under the protection programme, one of whom was Jonathan Guest, one of the gang’s lieutenants. The witnesses were ferried in and out flanked by police motorcycle riders and a helicopter which brought traffic to a standstill at the beginning and end of every day at court. Guest had pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiracy to supply amphetamines and cannabis and possessing £150,000 of heroin. He was still serving his twelve-year sentence in 2006 when he decided to approach a solicitor in London and then got in touch with Crimestoppers from prison. He spoke to Notts Police in November 2006.
Guest told the courtroom how he was kidnapped and ‘moulded’ into the organisation, sent on drug runs and left in charge of an amphetamine factory in Colwick. The former university student became involved in the drugs trade over an unpaid business loan to Rob Dawes. He told how Dawes had pointed a gun to his head because he could not sell a Range Rover to pay off the debt. Guest then became desperate, stole one of his grandparents’ cheques, wrote it out for £15,000 and gave it to the man. Dawes told Guest the cheque had better not bounce as he was going to put it through a car dealership in Kirkby-in-Ashfield belonging to Gary Hardy. When the cheque did bounce, Guest knew he was in deep trouble and his debt continued to increase. ‘As the problem developed, I ended up taking more money from my grandparents to pay off the debt,’ Guest told the court. ‘I believe it was forty thousand pounds in total. That was just a figure they came up with. I was in debt to them ... they owned me.’
Returning from a holiday, Guest knew Dawes would be waiting for him. ‘They took me away in a car. I spent six months in an attic, in a house, more or less under lock and key.’ Dawes would also pick up Guest from the house and use him as a ‘bar prop’, ordering him to get drinks at a bar and then taking him back to the house. As their trust grew in Guest, he was given a Renault Clio and trusted to deliver cash, sometimes to Rob Dawes and sometimes to John Dawes, in bundles of £1,000 notes. ‘On one occasion I was asked to go to London with a holdall and I believe I had a hundred thousand pounds in it.’ Guest often used to meet drugs contacts at motorway junctions. He would be given their name and a description of their car and was ordered to make a quick cash exchange. He also started delivering drugs to Matlock, where he would be told to go to the car park of a garden centre. A man in a Toyota pickup truck would oversee the exchange. ‘His soldiers came on motorbikes and collected the drugs off me and drove off on the bikes at speed,’ said Guest. ‘It was literally pass the drugs to the person on the motorbike with his visor down.’
Guest had first met Gary Hardy in the Devonshire Arms, Sutton-in-Ashfield. Guest came to believe that Hardy was one of the three drugs generals operating in the area. Each would receive £8,000 from the £40,000 that one kilo of heroin would bring on the streets. Guest, who would hide the heroin in buckets in the ground in woodland, said he was collecting a kilo every seven to ten days. Gary Hardy had also held a ‘drug dealer’s lottery’ for a Mercedes car he owned. Thirty tickets were sold for £1,000 each and among those who bought one each were David and Colin Gunn. The winner was determined by the bonus ball number each week on the National Lottery.
The trial heard how Hardy was one of the three generals of the Dawes Cartel. Witnesses who had been part of the gang told how they were often asked to keep watch over lorry trailers containing cocaine worth up to £30 million and hundreds of kilos of amphetamine and cannabis. Hardy himself had a fleet of luxury cars which could not have come from his legitimate business dealings. Richard Latham, QC, prosecuting, said, ‘Gary Hardy, we suggest, for at least ten years leading up to his arrest on January 4, 2007, was a major player in the drugs scene in Nottingham and the area north of Nottingham. He had a cash-rich lifestyle, a stable of hugely expensive cars – Porches, Ferraris and Mercedes – and he bought and sold properties and his children were educated privately. To the outside world he had a legitimate source of funding for his lifestyle. He was a director of a number of companies, but the companies were not successful and incapable of paying for his very expensive lifestyle.’
In August 2008, after a three-month trial, the jury came back with verdicts against Hardy. The forty-five-year-old was found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin and amphetamines. Nottingham Crown Court also convicted him of money laundering, and possession of criminal property. His mother, June Muers, aged sixty-six, of Pearl Avenue, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, was found guilty of conspiracy to supply amphetamines and conspiracy to supply cannabis and his forty-seven-year-old brother Paul was found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin, amphetamine, cannabis resin and possessing criminal property. Paul Hardy’s girlfriend Zoe Chapman, twenty-nine, of Willow Avenue, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, was convicted of conspiracy to supply amphetamines. Carl Busby was cleared of money laundering charges.
Gary Hardy was jailed for twenty years, Paul Hardy for twelve years, Muers for three years and Chapman for three-and-a-half years. Before Gary Hardy was led away, still maintaining the jovial façade he had throughout proceedings, Judge Henry Morrison told him, ‘Those who deal in drugs are dealing in the misery of addicts. Heroin has a devastating impact on addicts, their family and society. You dealt in large quantities of heroin and amphetamines and made large sums of money. It was easy profits for you but it also means a long sentence. However you are not in the same league as John Dawes. You will serve twenty years in prison.’
IN AUGUST 2008, two more Dawes Cartel members were jailed. Gavin Dawes, a thirty-year-old cousin of John and Rob, was jailed for fifteen years for involvement with a £14 million heroin consignment found in a garage in Ruddington, just outside Nottingham. Nottingham Crown Court heard that Dawes was laundering at least £1 million a month for his cousins. Fellow gang member Brian Peck was jailed for twelve-and-a-half years after both men pleaded guilty. It followed a joint investigation by SOCA and Nottinghamshire Police. The haul included sixty-five kilos of heroin, 89,000 ecstasy tablets and ten kilos of amphetamine and had been stored in the garage by Peck. Assets recovery investigators, however, failed to locate all the millions which the Dawes Cartel have earned from their drug dealing. At a hearing at Southwark Crown Court in September 2008, Judge Michael Pert placed an assets recovery order of just £355,000 on John Dawes, concluding that, although it was accepted during court proceedings that Dawes had made over £8 million during the course of his criminal activities, most of the assets could not be located.
Another trial linked to seizure of the heroin in Ruddington revealed that, at a conservative estimate, at least £1 million in cash was being washed every month by the Cartel. A doctor from Leicester, Mohammed Aziz, was convicted after helping Gavin Dawes wash the fruits of drug dealing through a series of money transfers at exchange bureaus. Police discovered Aziz’s phone was hot with texts confirming regular cash transactions of £150,000, which were often heavily coded or encrypted. Aziz, who was codenamed ‘Spac’ by the gang, was trapped when police discovered a ledger of transactions in Dawes’s car, which implicated Aziz. Along with a number of others involved, he received three years jail time.
In January 2009, another one-time associate of the Dawes Cartel who had built up his own drug smuggling operation was caught by Dutch police as part of a British-led operation. Anthony Spencer, a sixty-one-year-old career criminal from Coventry, had spent forty years of his adult life behind bars but was still organising shipments of amphetamines and cannabis to Britain. SOCA and the Dutch monitored his Midlands-based gang on bugged mobile telephones as they talked in code about the ‘product’ being moved from Amsterdam to the UK. They used the words ‘garden work’ and ‘green paint’ for cannabis, ‘paperwork’ for money and ‘DVDs’, ‘CDs’ or ‘film’ for synthetic drugs such as amphetamine. They also used the words ‘horse and jockey’ to discuss when the drugs were being transported or when their couriers were arriving or leaving. As Spencer made one more trip to finalise details of the shipment, armed Dutch officers moved in on him and the drugs stored in the farmhouse just outside Amsterdam.
During Spencer’s trial, details emerged of the technologies now used against organised crime. Spencer’s defence team presented the trial judge with a skeleton argument claiming that a ‘roving’ bug had been utilised by the Dutch at the request of SOCA, and planned to argue that the intercept evidence so gained was inadmissible. Dutch investigators and telecommunications experts were flown into the UK in preparation to defend the intercept evidence. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which governs surveillance and eavesdropping in the UK, telephone intercept material is inadmissible as evidence in a British court unless it is recorded overseas, and then only with the proper authority of that foreign state. Telephone bugs usually intercept audible material while a phone call is in progress, but anomalies in the material received by defence barristers in the Spencer case indicated that police were able to record conversations taking place even when a call did not appear to be in progress. In a legal argument to the trial judge, defence barrister Charles Benson, QC, stated, ‘We are aware that a different technology now exists, known among other things as a roving bug. This enables a prospective eavesdropper to access the handset of the telephone in question and use it as a transmitter or microphone whether or not a call is actually in progress. Indeed, any conversation within some ten feet of the handset can thus be overheard.’
Mr Benson alerted the trial judge to one conversation between Anthony Spencer and a member of the gang which had purportedly been bugged by ‘the Dutch authorities when both men are known to be in England’. However, despite having flown in the Dutch telecommunications experts in preparation to defend the use of the bugs, late guilty pleas were accepted by the prosecution, which meant the issue was not debated in open court. Benson’s proposition to the trial judge, and one which was accepted as wholly possible by security experts, was that the mobile phone can be controlled by remotely infecting it with a piece of software either by text or other message not visible to the target. The method had been considered urban myth until, in 2006, a court application made by the FBI in a case against two Mafia families revealed that roving bugs were being used in the United States. In 2009, the US National Security Agency voiced fears that European-based terrorists and organised criminals had been turning to Skype, software that allows phone calls to be made over the Internet, as a way of thwarting state eavesdropping. Mobile telephones, unlike personal computers, have no firewalls, making them easy targets for the implanting of rogue software through texts or other means.
‘The technology has been available for a number of years and to my knowledge was first used by the FBI against Mafia targets,’ one security expert told me. ‘Basically if you have the phone number and the IMEI [International Mobile Equipment Identity] number of the target and you then have the collaboration of the phone network service providers, a piece of software can be installed which turns your mobile phone into a roving microphone or a roving bug as it is known. That software can be installed physically or remotely without the knowledge of the target. The software can then be used to trigger the phone as a mike at will or by voice activation so you can not only hear two sides of the conversation on the phone but also any activity within a few feet of the infected telephone.’
One recently retired head of a UK CID force confirmed, ‘The technology has been available to the Security Services and SOCA for a number of years now. I can only tell you that it was never used or made available to my own force.’ While the debate over the inadmissibility of bugging material in British courts is ongoing, it may be only a matter of time before the authorities are forced to concede that they only have the prospect of a conviction in some gang-related cases if such intercepted material is allowed into court.
Anthony Spencer pleaded guilty, along with his lieutenant, former prison governor Jogendranath Rajcoomar, aged fifty-nine, also of Keresley, Coventry. Spencer was jailed for five years and three months, Rajcoomar for three years and nine months. Six other men also pleaded guilty to their role in the conspiracy to import and supply 140 kilos of amphetamines and cannabis.
ROBERT DAWES, JOHN’S brother, was proving a more difficult catch to land. Intelligent, ruthless and with powerful connections, but wanted in three countries – the UK and Spain, for drug smuggling, and Holland, for questioning over the execution of teacher Gerard Meesters – he esaped arrest until June 2008, when he was caught as he flew into Dubai airport from Spain. The Spanish authorities had been after him for several months in connection with a multi-million-pound haul of cocaine. Caught up in the Dawes sting, which had been conceived, planned and executed by officers from SOCA, was an innocent British pensioner.
Trevor Wade wakes every morning in the small cell in Leon, northern Spain, which has been his home since September 2007, and wonders what he has done to deserve his misfortune. Trevor is no spring chicken. He is entering his late sixties and has a history of poor health, including prostate cancer, angina and a crumbling spine. He, his wife Anne, and their two children were looking forward to a quiet retirement when Trevor’s ill-health forced him to give up first his work as a lorry driver and then his work for a firm of private investigators. When a supposed friend asked him to accompany him to help out with some driving on a four-day trip to Spain, he worried about leaving his family for a few days but Anne convinced him that a break would do him good and would get him out from under her feet. But the decision was to propel Trevor and his family into a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions. Trevor had known Karl Hayes for some eight years through the haulage business and thought he knew everything that he needed to know about him. But he had no inkling that Hayes had become indebted to the Cartel run by Rob Dawes and had been working for them for more than five years, helping to smuggle drugs and launder money. As far as Trevor was concerned, when he set out from his Lincolnshire home on September 5, he was simply helping out Hayes by doing a bit of driving from England to Spain so that Hayes could pick up some payments due for the fruit and vegetable transports he carried out between Valencia and the UK. After an uneventful journey through France, the Mercedes car the two men were travelling in began its journey into Spain. As they approached Madrid, Mr Wade was told by Hayes that the car was overheating and he needed to pull over to allow the engine to cool.
In a letter from his cell in Leon, Spain, Wade explained what happened next.
When we pulled up I got out of the car to stretch my legs and then saw this man approach Karl, who was still in the car, and began talking to him. All of a sudden Karl got out the car and handed his car keys to the man who then got in and drove off. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and asked Karl what it was all about. He said ‘It’s okay he’s English and he is going to check the water system for me’. I told him he was crazy and he would never see the car again. I was puzzled but he assured me the car would come back so we then went into the bar for a coffee to wait. After about 45 minutes the car came back and the English man now had another man with him travelling in a red Ford Kia The three of them all began talking and I just kept out of it, thinking this was none of my business, but when I got back in the Mercedes I noticed a large carton on the back seat of the car which was not there before. I alerted Karl to it and he said it was nothing to worry about that it was just cigarettes which the other man had asked him to take to Valencia. I knew Karl transported fruit and veg from Valencia so I assumed that must be where he was going to pick up the money owed to him. We drove off from the coffee bar and the Red Kia was in front of us. Karl said the other two men were going to show us the road out towards Valencia as far as a service station a few miles away. I knew we needed some more diesel so I said no more. When we got to the service station Karl got out to fill up the car while I went in to the service station to pay. After paying, I walked back out and then just as I was about to get in the car I was grabbed from behind and pushed against the car. I could see Karl on the floor surrounded by other men and they were all armed. At first I thought the petrol station had been robbed and they wanted our car as a getaway but then I realised as they handcuffed us, as well as the men in the red Kia, that they were plain clothed policemen.
Unbeknown to Wade, the carton in the back of the car and five others in the boot contained 200 kilos of cocaine with a purity of eighty-two per cent. It was worth £7 million wholesale or approximately £22 million at street value. Wade, along with Karl Hayes, Andrew Cunliffe, another British subject, and a Columbian, was charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine. SOCA had had Hayes on their radar for more than a year and, having allowed one shipment through, had tracked the Mercedes car electronically from Boston, Lincolnshire, to Madrid. Also in their sights was another British lorry driver, Brian Kelly. As the job progressed SOCA investigators sent communiqués to the counterparts in Madrid detailing what they knew about Hayes and Kelly and linking both of them to Rob Dawes. In one, SOCA officers stated, ‘Our information indicates that Brian Kelly born 20 April 1954 is on route to collect 100 kilos of cocaine from Spain and to transport it to Belgium. After receiving a legitimate cargo Kelly will go to meet one of Dawes partners in Madrid to collect the 100 kilos of cocaine. We have received information that Karl Hayes, on behalf of Dawes, has travelled by car to Spain this afternoon to be able to see that the lorry meets its destination.’
The following day, a new note was sent by SOCA to Madrid: ‘Our information indicates that Hayes is travelling to Spain to supervise the delivery of a quantity of cocaine to Brian Kelly. We suspect that given the distance of travel that Hayes has a travel companion. We suspect that the last time Hayes did this journey he collected the drugs and passed them on to Kelly.’
Wade’s case was backed by statements made to SOCA by Karl Hayes and his partner Paula Sharp, who ran the transport firm SOCA suspected had been used by the Dawes Cartel. Hayes claimed he was acting as an agent provocateur to try to nail members of the drugs gang after his son had died from a drugs overdose. He has been visited in the Spanish jail at least five times by SOCA officers who have offered to help him get a reduced sentence from Spanish prosecutors in return for information about Robert Dawes. ‘I have made it clear in my statements that Trevor’s involvement in this situation was as a favour to me to help me drive from the UK to Spain,’ says Hayes. ‘As a friend I should have made all the facts and my full intentions known to him. Had I done so, I am sure that Trevor would not have been in my car that day with me. Trevor and his family don’t deserve this to happen and if he were to die in prison the damage to his family would be immeasurable.’ More corroboration that Wade was innocent came from Paula Sharp, Hayes’s partner at Sharp’s Haulage. She stated, ‘Karl was needed back in England for the weekend for other duties and so I made a suggestion that he took Trevor Wade with him to share the driving and hence get back for the weekend. This is indeed what happened and Trevor Wade has been innocently caught up in the consequences.’ SOCA’s own communications to Spanish investigators indicated there was no intelligence that Wade was involved in the drugs deal. Indeed, a communiqué stated that there was an unknown man in Hayes’s car who they presumed was merely ‘a travel companion for Hayes given the distance of travel’.
Wade’s wife, Anne, has been campaigning for his release through Fair Trials International, the Foreign Office and her MP. She is the only breadwinner in the family now, working long hours to keep the family afloat financially as well as mentally. Every day she tries to find a way through the mountain of bureaucracy which is preventing the truth coming out.
‘I have only been able to go to Spain to see Trevor once and I fear that he will die in prison without being able to see his two children again,’ she told me. ‘I am at the end of my tether. There is no way that Trevor would have agreed to accompany Karl Hayes if he thought there was anything dodgy about it. I just can’t believe this has happened. I keep thinking I will wake up and it will all have been a bad dream but this has been going on for two years now. Now Trevor has been told it will be another year in prison before a trial starts. He is just being left to rot in prison while the guilty ones are either going free or are being offered cuts in their sentence. The Foreign Office and Fair Trials have been doing what they can but SOCA have not been very helpful. SOCA officers have been to visit Karl Hayes at least four times in prison in Spain and have told his ex-wife they have agreed a deal for him which will give him a reduced sentence in exchange for information. I have asked them why they have not been to see Trevor and they have told me it’s because he is not involved and has nothing to offer them. The whole thing stinks, particularly when you look at the way the British Government did everything they could to help free the Lockerbie bomber to get him back to Libya because of his prostate cancer, when he has been convicted of killing hundreds of people.’
Stranger still was the languid response of the law enforcement agencies in both countries towards the main target, Rob Dawes. There was a huge intelligence file on Dawes, including identification of businesses he had on the Costa del Sol, properties in Mijas and business interests in Dubai, where he sometimes based himself. He was being tracked all over the globe. Trevor Wade had been arrested on 6 September 2007 and yet it took another nine months for the authorities to track down Dawes. He was only arrested because he made the mistake of thinking he was immune from an international warrant in Dubai. And as of July 2010, two years after his arrest, there was no sign of him being extradited to any of the countries which had accumulated so much information about his brutal methods and drug smuggling.
Meanwhile Trevor still sits in his cell wondering what has been going on. At worst, like Kevin Musgrove (see Chapter Five), he was a victim of his own naivety, guilty of trusting someone whose background and intentions were concealed from him. He learned the hard way that no matter how closely one follows the letter of the law, it sometimes pays to be more careful about who your friends and business associates are. Prison life in Leon would have broken many lesser men but what he lacks in physical strength he makes up for in mental fortitude, and he and his supporters are determined to see him back home with his family.
Every evening, he gets to make a five-minute phone call. During one of these calls, he told me his daily routine. ‘We get up at 7.30am, then it’s down for breakfast, which is usually a cup of coffee and a two-inch piece of sponge cake. Lunch can be anything from a bowl of soup, which is usually tinned French beans mixed up with water and a roll. Two days a week we get some fish, which is boiled to nothing and in a bit of liquid which is usually cold and slimy. We don’t get any fresh vegetables ever, everything is army surplus tinned stuff, which comes from the barracks nearby, I guess. If we are lucky we get a sausage sometimes or a slice of fatty belly pork at the weekend. The only thing I can honestly say I look forward to is the bit of Spanish tortilla we get sometimes. There is no kind of work or education regime here like you might get in a British prison. They stick us outside in the yard for a few hours every day, and in winter and spring it’s bloody cold sometimes. There is nothing in the cells except for a bunk and chair and table I am sharing with three other people. There is no distinction between prisoners in here. I am in with terrorists on one side and paedophiles on the other, bloody scary at times.’
Trevor’s situation contrasts sharply with that of Gavin Dawes, cousin of Rob and John Dawes. He is, at the time of writing, residing in HMP Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire. He has good meals three times a day, access to an Xbox, Sky television and a phone in his en suite cell. Dawes is serving fifteen years. Amazingly he has access to his own Facebook page from his prison cell and, in his own words, is living the life of Riley. He may well be out in five years and allowed to go on home visits in three to four years.
Meanwhile SOCA insists it cannot extend any further help to Trevor Wade. ‘SOCA has an obligation, under the relevant statutory disclosure provisions, to make available to the Spanish prosecutor any material in our possession that would assist in Mr Wade’s defence or undermine the prosecution case,’ said a spokesman. ‘[But] the proceedings in relation to Mr Wade and Karl Hayes lie firmly within the jurisdiction of the Spanish authorities. We do not have the authority to offer a benefit to any prisoner on behalf of another jurisdiction.’
As in the case of Kevin Musgrove, it is to be hoped that justice will one day be served.
MYSTERY CONTINUES TO surround the disappearance of James Brodie, the man who pulled the trigger in the Marian Bates murder. Rumours, some wild, circulated regarding Brodie’s fate from the day he disappeared, including: that he was shot dead on Colin Gunn’s orders twenty-four hours after the botched jewellery raid and then was fed to pigs, or that he was buried under new buildings on the site of the old Sporting Chance pub, or that he fled and is safely hiding out in Portugal, Spain or Ireland. In October 2007, there was a fresh appeal for his whereabouts but all enquiries – which even had police digging up land in Flintham – drew a blank. Rumours also circulated that an extensive dig carried out on land in Blidworth was connected to the search for Brodie’s remains. Either way, police remain convinced that Brodie was executed within forty-eight hours of Marian Bates’s death because it was feared his capture would bring down the rest of the gang.
Arrests were made in April 2010 for the murder of David Draycott. Police had been able to use new technology to recreate the scene of the shooting which they said provided significant new evidence. But after a few days’ questioning, the two men arrested, aged twenty-two and thirty-three, were released without charge.
In June 2008, Vincent ‘PG Man’ Robinson passed away after a long battle with cancer.
In September 2008, Kevin Warsop, who had been been arrested with Colin Gunn back in 1998 over an incident outside the Astoria nightclub, threatened to shoot police officers and blow up his house during a twenty-four-hour siege at his home in Raymede Drive, Bestwood. The stand-off began when the thirty-nine-year-old Warsop refused to let officers into the property after his wife had dialled 999 following a domestic incident. Warsop made a gun gesture at the officers and said he had a firearm. ‘Just see what happens if you come in,’ he told police. ‘Just see what happens to the first one of you through the door.’ A nearby school was closed the next day as the siege continued, homes were evacuated and the gas supply to his house was cut off. The siege eventually came to an end when five officers entered the house and arrested Warsop after a struggle. No gun was found. Warsop was subsequently jailed for twenty-one months after admitting making threats to kill and threatening to damage property with intent to endanger life. Nottingham Crown Court heard that the father of two young children had taken parenting courses while in prison and intended to move away from Bestwood to avoid criminality. ‘He recognises, even knowing where his roots are, that he is going to have to move away if he is going to put his past behind him,’ said his barrister.
ON 1 FEBRUARY 2010, the inquest into the deaths of Joan and John Stirland finally got underway, five-and-a-half years after they had perished so brutally on that sunny day on the east coast. Nottinghamshire Police had already agreed to pay the Stirlands’ children compensation, amounting to less than £20,000, in recognition of its failings. Given the circumstances of the couple’s death, it came as no surprise that this was not an ordinary inquest. There was tight security at Lincoln Crown Court, with members of the public and press barred from the building and instead directed to the local magistrates court a mile away, where a video link had been set up to view proceedings. Michael O’Brien, Joan’s son, who was serving a life sentence for the murder which sparked the killings, was also allowed to watch proceedings over three weeks from a room in prison. Almost all the police witnesses in the case were given anonymity, being referred to by letters of the alphabet.
The outcome would be decided by a jury and the members of that jury were directed not by the usual coroner for Lincolnshire but by barrister Karon Monaghan, a QC from London law chambers Matrix, who had been called in to oversee the complexities of the case as a human rights law specialist. Monaghan made it clear that the jury would have to consider a number of specific allegations when considering the evidence, key of which were whether police corruption had played a part in the deaths of the Stirlands and whether police had failed in their duty of care towards the couple.
From the outset it was clear that the covert nature of the investigation into the Bestwood Cartel had hindered the normal flow of information and intelligence within the police force about any threat to the Stirlands. Secrecy had been so tight that the senior investigating officer heading Operation Utah, the probe into the Gunns, did not even know who the Stirlands were until news reached him of their murder. Other police witnesses said the belief within the force was that the murders were beyond the capability of the Bestwood Cartel. As one senior officer put it, ‘Gunn usually sought out and injured those who were involved in organised crime.’ As far as they were concerned, the punishment shootings being carried out on the estate at the time were a case of ‘bad on bad’. Yet one former detective superintendent pointed out that early on in the investigation into the crime empire, intelligence suggested Gunn had a team of hitmen, at least six ‘shooters’, who were willing to carry out jobs in return for payment or drugs. The list included Michael McNee and John Russell. Added to this, the intelligence log revealed more than 100 snippets linking Gunn to the procurement and use of firearms over the period of a year. All this was information available to some senior officers many months before the slaying of the grandparents.
Other information to emerge from the inquest included a more detailed account of just how much danger Joan Stirland had put herself in in order to help police nail her own son. One of Colin Gunn’s original motives for sending shooters after the couple, when they were living in Carlton, Nottingham, was that Mrs Stirland had not ‘given up’ her son. However, it emerged in evidence that in fact Mrs Stirland had received a phone call from O’Brien in which her son had demanded £50 for food and drugs and confessed to the murder of Marvyn Bradshaw. Mrs Stirland duly related this to police and a meeting was set up in a supermarket car park in Bulwell. Unknown to O’Brien, armed police maintained watch as the money was handed to a friend of O’Brien and, by following his car, police were able to arrest O’Brien a few days later in Leicester. After her own home in Carlton was shot up, Mrs Stirland asked Nottinghamshire Police officers to make it known to Gunn that she had helped police to trace her son. Officers refused the request, saying it was ‘not appropriate’. Perhaps most controversially, it emerged that the police told Joan Stirland they could not give her protection because she had refused to give them a signed statement implicating her son.
Nick Gargan, deputy chief constable at the National Policing Improvement Agency, told the inquest that the witness protection arrangements for the couple were ‘poor and inadequate’. He said it was wrong that officers had given Mrs Stirland the impression that she could only get protection if she made a statement against her son, and other solutions had not been sought by senior officers. Command level officers had not considered the option of a ‘threat to life’ policy, something in place at the Metropolitan Police, which could have given the Stirlands more protection without going into witness protection. Not only did they not offer the required level of protection, it emerged that there was a record of the new Lincolnshire safe house address on a Nottinghamshire Police computer at least three weeks before the murder. A prison inmate who had drug dealings with the Gunns claimed the address had been compromised by DC Charles Fletcher, but anti-corruption officers stated that although Fletcher had logged onto details about the Stirlands old address at Carlton after the shootings in 2003, he had not accessed the computer for the Trusthorpe address. It was conceded that the information about the address eventually came from a British Telecom employee making a reverse ex-directory number check.
When the jury returned with its verdict, after more than three weeks of evidence, there was an inevitability about the result. In all six major failings by Nottinghamshire Police were identified by the jury, which also found British Telecom had failed the couple. Police had: failed to take reasonable steps to protect the couple; failed to put adequate protective measures in place at their Trusthorpe home; failed to manage intelligence and information properly; failed to investigate the reprisal attacks after the murder of Marvyn Bradshaw; failed to perform a proper risk assessment on the couple; and failed to warn them of Gunn’s links along the Lincolnshire coast.
It seems perverse that the design of the operation to bring down the Bestwood Cartel – in particular its inherent secrecy – prevented some officers from passing on and receiving vital information. This information indicated that the Stirlands were in extreme danger. The failings highlighted by the inquest gave heart to Gunn and his supporters, who felt it would help in any bid for an appeal. But an important fact had become lost amongst all the backslapping of the Cartel supporters. Colin Gunn was not arrested and convicted on evidence submitted by Nottinghamshire Police; it was Lincolnshire’s Operation Karoo, the biggest inquiry in the history of the force, headed by its most senior detective, Graham White, his team of officers and Lincolnshire Crown Prosecution Service, which had finally brought the crime lord and some of his henchmen to justice.
After the termination of Steve Green’s contract as Chief Constable in June 2008, Nottinghamshire Police looked to improve its poor standing in the league tables of crime prevention and detection. But by the time of the Stirland inquest, the force was in turmoil. Following Green’s departure, the police authority selection panel once again went for a successor who had no background in crime detection or CID. Julia Hodson, the daughter of a Derbyshire coal miner, was variously described as ‘well-liked’ and, when she needed to be, ‘feisty’. A former acting chief of West Yorkshire Police, she was the first woman to be appointed to the Nottinghamshire post. She inherited a difficult situation, with the county force still lying at the bottom of the league tables for many areas of crime. Added to this there were Machiavellian goings-on in the background, with several councillors looking to remove police authority chairman John Clarke.
The lack of unity, both within the police authority and at command level within the force, became public knowledge in December 2009. First came the resignation of police authority chief executive David Wilcock, who had been in the job only two months. His leaked resignation letter shook the authority to the core. ‘Whilst it is not unusual to find multiple challenges running in parallel in the public sector,’ wrote Wilcock, ‘to find so many in one organisation with no inherent capacity to support self-improvement is extraordinary. In my experience, the current situation has not happened overnight and seems to have accumulated without action over a period of time, without being tackled.’ John Mann, the MP for Bassetlaw, publicly criticised the force in the same week during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, suggesting that an ‘organisational malaise’ was hindering Nottinghamshire’s crime-fighting abilities.
The day after the Wilcock revelations, documents leaked to the city’s daily newspaper revealed that Deputy Chief Constable Howard Roberts had been embroiled in a private clash of personalities with the head of HMIC, Dennis O’Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary. It was a dispute that Roberts claimed went back to 2005, when Nottinghamshire was under public scrutiny following Steve Green’s declaration that the force couldn’t cope with the murders on its patch. The public nature of the spat, which only came to light after it was discussed at a closed police authority meeting, was a huge embarrassment and led to the inevitable witch hunt for the person who had leaked the material. The dispute centred on Roberts’ belief that his career progression was being impeded because he had ‘stood up’ to criticisms from O’Connor when the Home Office called in investigators to probe Green’s ‘can’t cope’ comments. Roberts suggested HMIC had subsequently taken to sabotaging his applications for various high-profile police posts. He also believed HMIC had played some part in blocking a twelve-month extension to his contract at Nottinghamshire, which had been rejected by police authority members. O’Connor and Roberts declined to comment on the revelations.
The fact was that HMIC was already taking a keen interest in the running of Nottinghamshire Police, indeed it had been gazing over the shoulders of the Nottinghamshire police authority and command team since 2005. Some even felt its presence was hindering the ability of the Chief Constable to make robust decisions and resolve some of the problems besetting the force. ‘I think Julia [Hodson] has got her work cut out to deal with the mess she was left with,’ one former senior officer told me. ‘She could not have foreseen the malevolent political landscape which has been building around the force for the last few years ever since Steve Green’s ill-advised outburst. It’s a chapter devoted to meddling and muddling by outside influences, all of which appear to be speeding up the march towards a crisis.’
HMIC finally showed its public hand when a Daily Telegraph article speculated with some authority that Julia Hodson’s job was on the line and that the force was locked in a cycle of underperformance. HMIC admitted it was monitoring Nottinghamshire closely and was working with it to produce an improvement plan. Before the end of January 2010, HMIC declared it was facing an ‘enduring issue of Nottinghamshire Police’s under-performance’ and that a team of experts would be sent to the county to plan improvements which could be enacted within ninety days. It was an unprecedented move in policing terms and one which placed a question mark next to Hodson’s long-term future. The team of experts included two current chief constables and a police authority chairman from outside forces, a chief executive from British Transport Police authority and a captain of industry in Tony Wilkinson, former chairman of the Wilkinson hardware stores. It would be headed by Adam Pemberton from the Cabinet Office, who had recently overseen the biggest shake-up in the history of the civil service.
Before the team had completed its findings, the police authority chairman of ten years, John Clarke, announced he would be stepping down. At the same time, he denounced the leaks from the police authority, which he said had been referred to Derbyshire Police to investigate for offences under the Data Protection Act. ‘I’m fed up with information getting out and being blamed for poor performance when I’m in a non-operational position,’ he said. ‘I can’t work with information I’m given, be it details of counterterrorism or organised crime, if someone within the organisation is leaking information. I’m proud of my record in helping achieve the reduction in crime in Nottinghamshire but on a day-to-day basis, there are people out there trying to undermine. The way I’ve been treated by some people, I believe, has been absolutely scandalous.’ He didn’t identify where he believed the mischief was coming from but the HMIC review team, when it made its findings public two weeks later, stated poor leadership from the police authority was impeding the progress of the police force. ‘The leadership of the authority is ineffective ... The authority is not seen as adding value to policing in Nottinghamshire. By virtue of the long standing positions the chair and chief executive must accept primary responsibility for this.’
Alongside this criticism, the review team declared Julia Hodson unable to push through her vision because she lacked a capable chief officer team. ‘It is a precondition for the authority’s and force’s future success that these issues are resolved,’ the review team added. With Clarke’s departure announced, the usual jockeying for position began with city council leader Jon Collins taking the reins as chairman, elected in a secret ballot. Vacancies for a deputy chief constable and two assistant chief constables were filled to strengthen Hodson’s team in the top corridor.
Before that had happened, the latest HMIC report into Nottinghamshire branded the force the worst in the country. It could not sink any further.
Some officers speak of a deep malaise in policing in this country, one that may have much to do with social changes that have taken place among police officers and the law-abiding public in the past four decades. A former head of CID from a force close to Nottinghamshire told me that he had begun his thirty or so years in the force living among the community he actually served, pounding the streets as a beat bobby as many officers did. He got to know his community, he drank in the local pub most evenings and he gathered intelligence on who was who and who was doing what. He made sure he was a presence in the community he lived in, as an individual, as a family man, as a neighbour but above all as a police officer, and he was respected even if he had to arrest someone he had been talking amicably with the previous day. He told me, ‘What happened was, as time went on police officers’ pay got better and officers stopped living on the estates, they didn’t want to live there because they could afford to live somewhere else and all the police houses that were on the estates got sold off and suddenly the connection between the police officer and the community had been eroded. The police officer wasn’t someone who you could relate to or connect with any more. That also meant police didn’t know what was really going on on the estates as well.’
The changes in the way Britain’s streets are policed, the reduction of foot patrols and expansion of vehicle patrols, has exacerbated that feeling of detachment, creating a gulf that can easily be exploited by organised crime and gangs. The growth of the black economy has also seen otherwise honest people increasingly both at risk of being criminalised and of becoming victims of crime. Faith in both the criminal justice system and the police to deliver what the public demand is at an all-time low. In Nottinghamshire, at least, it seemed the bottom had been reached. In 2002, HMIC inspector David Blakey had stated, ‘If you lived, worked or visited Notts, you are more likely to have a crime committed against you than anywhere else in the country.’ Eight years later, HMIC assessed Nottinghamshire as the worst force in the country, and only in Greater Manchester or London were you more likely to be a victim of crime. It seemed that Nottinghamshire’s outlaws still ruled the roost.
IN MARCH 2010, Janice Collins, the mother of Brendon Lawrence, finally saw his killer brought to justice. After eight ‘horrendous’ years, she watched as Rene Sarpong, aged twenty-nine, a gang member from the St Ann’s area, received a life sentence with a minimum twenty-two-year term. The judge, Mr Justice David Clarke, was minded to reflect on how Brendon’s death had been the start of so much pointless tragedy for the city. ‘This killing, in February 2002, was the first killing by shooting of a young black victim on the streets of Nottingham,’ he said. ‘It was not the last. The killings that followed gave this city a reputation as a lawless place. Men are now serving long sentences for those offences and Nottingham is throwing off that unfortunate reputation.’
It had taken a long time to get a conviction. The jury had failed to reach a verdict at a previous trial of Sarpong and had found another defendant not guilty. This time the relief for Janice Collins was evident as she shouted ‘Yes’ and punched the air as the jury returned its verdict. ‘It has been horrendous,’ she confided afterwards. ‘I’ve never slept through the night in eight years. You are walking the streets and going to the shop and doing what you are doing and it is constantly on your mind; you know, who shot Brendon? Well, we know now. It’s taken eight years ... but we got there.’
Organised crime continues to flourish in Nottingham, despite the work of all the agencies tackling the problem. Alongside homegrown gangs there are now Chinese and Vietnamese gangs running cannabis hydroponic factories in empty houses and industrial units. Law enforcement agencies fear that foreign, particularly East European, gangs are making an impact in our cities, sometimes filling the gaps created by the successful prosecution of local drug lords. Drugs, prostitution, credit card fraud and people trafficking are their areas of expertise and they appear more adept than British gangs at laundering their gains. Meanwhile firearms and knife crime remain huge problems among the youth of Britain.
The answer lies not in the number of arrests to be made but in the offer of a positive future for the young, a future that does not involve them becoming drug dealers or gang members. There is hope in groups such as the Unity football team, set up by Morris Samuels in 2005 after the murder of Danielle Beccan and made up from youngsters from the three areas of the warring NG triangle: Radford, the Meadows and St Ann’s. There is also the No Gun Organisation, set up by Clayton Byfield, which is continuing to get the message out to young people that guns and knives do nothing but take lives away. These groups offer something positive to young people despite a lack of support and funding. From little acorns great oak trees grow, as they say, and these projects offer some hope that there is a brighter future than one in which individuals and communities have too often in the past been ready to give up doing the right thing and tacitly accept the rule of the gun.