Hoods: The Gangs of Nottingham, A Study in Organised Crime (2012)
n the early hours of 30 May 1993, a blues party was well underway in a disused warehouse in Ashforth Street, St Ann’s. Among those who had been forewarned about the event was the Yardie Eaton Green. Green had fled to the UK to escape an attempted murder charge in Jamaica and to elude fellow Yardies who had scores to settle. By the age of twelve, he had left school in downtown Kingston and was mixing with gangsters who had affiliations with the PNP. They ran areas of the city with the help of corrupt politicians and policemen. By the time of the 1980 elections in Jamaica, the criminal gangs were merging almost seamlessly with the politicians. Green was at the vortex of it, now a gunman doing the bidding of corrupt PNP leaders who wanted to take down rivals working for the JLP.
Green became part of the Tel Aviv Crew, named after the slum area of Kingston where he was brought up. These were government housing projects built around yards, hence the name ‘Yardie’. The Tel Aviv Crew was divided into a number of posses or gangs, including the Rapid Posse, the Kremlin Posse and the Desert Posse, to which Green belonged during the 1980s. Before the decade was over he had been involved in a number of murders, which he would later confess to, spent four years in prison and been arrested for a multitude of crimes, from murder to armed robbery. Reluctance on the part of witnesses to come forward shielded him from several life sentences in Jamaica. In 1991, awaiting trial for a shooting, he jumped bail, booked a flight to the UK and walked through immigration to begin what he hoped would be a new and prosperous life.
Green was a dangerous man who was known to use a firearm at the slightest provocation. He became a frequent visitor to Nottingham from London and was soon known to the police. Nottinghamshire Police intelligence picked up information that Green was selling crack cocaine in the city: his name had cropped up in the letters written by Ian Bedward which were seized by police. In fact Green was only one of a small but growing number of Yardies branching out from the capital and selling drugs in the major provincial cities of Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.
According to testimony at a later court trial, two brothers from Birmingham who had recently fallen out with the Robinsons in an apparent turf rivalry were expected at the blues party, which began on the night of 29 May. Police suspected these brothers were ferrying large amounts of cocaine into Nottingham. At a party two weeks earlier, two of the Robinson clan, Peter and Ricky – Douggie Man’s grandsons – had been severely beaten up. Another of the family, Leslie, who was working as a clerk at a law firm and would later become the main organiser for the Nottingham Afro-Caribbean Carnival, had his car torched in an attack police believed was linked to the feud. Eaton Green, who had been partying at the Marcus Garvey Centre in Nottingham the same night with some Yardie friends, had also been ‘dissed’ by some of the locals. One of them had saluted Asher’s sound coming from the speakers with a volley of gunfire into the ceiling, which had almost deafened one of Green’s associates, Rohan ‘Bumpy’ Thomas. Bumpy wasn’t happy.
By 3.30am, the Ashforth Street party was in full swing, with around 200 punters enjoying heavy bass sounds from the booming speakers. Then chaos erupted. Five men – one dressed in a bandana and brandishing a Luger pistol, two others with handguns and another with a shotgun – burst into the building and switched the lights on. The music ground to a halt. The silence was broken by two blasts as a shotgun was fired into the ceiling by one of the raiders. Next, they began to strip customers of their money and jewellery. Their leader, Eaton Green, brandished his Luger in the face of a number of the men present, taking interest in one in particular, Michael Johnson, who had refused to hand over anything and made to run away. Green took aim and fired. The bullet missed Johnson and instead hit twenty-year-old Leibert ‘Bubbler’ Henry in the foot. Two other men who refused to take this disrespect without a fight were beaten up by Green and his associates.
‘We are the Seek and Destroy Posse and this is a robbery,’ Green screamed at the terrified partygoers. Leibert Henry, blood pumping out of his damaged foot, pleaded to be let out of the building to get medical help but Green refused, taunting him with the words, ‘Bleed, pussy, bleed.’ The gunmen then demanded that the men be separated from the women and began to remove jewellery, money, credit cards, mobile phones and drugs. The incident was over within half an hour but in that time Green and his gang robbed more people in one go than at any other recorded British crime scene. The Birmingham brothers Green was looking for did not appear to be among the partygoers but he evidently felt some part of his mission had been accomplished by robbing the locals and ‘dissing’ them.
At first Operation Warehouse, as the police investigation was called, dug up few leads to the gunmen’s identity. But gradually a picture began to emerge of some of the assailants. The main protagonist was a slim, young black man in his late twenties with a large scar across his right cheek wearing a bandana and had answered to the name Leon, which Nottinghamshire detectives knew from recent intelligence was Green’s street name. Another man had the nickname Bumpy, according to some of the witnesses. The vehicle Green and his associates had driven from London was found to be a hire car booked from a company based at Heathrow Airport. CCTV images obtained from the company showed Green and two of his gang meeting Elaine Robinson at Heathrow. Nevertheless, for Nottinghamshire Police the biggest revelation was yet to come.
Over the subsequent weeks, officers began to piece together more information about Green. They found an address he had been staying at where there was further evidence of a connection to Nottingham: photographs of Elaine Robinson and her daughter Sophie, along with Green’s mobile phone number. Information from the Jamaican authorities revealed Green to be a dangerous Yardie wanted for involvement in several brutal murders. How then had he managed to slip into Britain without being arrested or turned back? In fact, as police in Nottingham were to discover, Green had been helped in avoiding deportation back to Jamaica. Not only that, he had brought two violent associates over from Jamaica on false passports with a little help from ‘friends’ in high places – friends specifically in the Metropolitan Police and the Immigration Service. They in turn were acting with the consent of the top brass at Scotland Yard and the Home Office. Eaton Leonard Green was a top-level Yardie informant playing a double agent role within the Metropolitan Police S011 Intelligence Unit. His code name was Aldridge Clarke.
By July 1993, some resourceful Nottingham detectives were closing in on Green, despite a lack of assistance from Scotland Yard. At around 2pm on 8 July 1993, after tracking him through several addresses they had gained from social security details, they finally located their man walking down Mandela Road in Newham, East London. He was handcuffed and led to a car that would take him up the M1 to be questioned about the blues party robbery. But, as the Nottinghamshire officers were soon to discover, this was far from an open-and-shut case. The Metropolitan Police work ended up hampering the progress of their provincial colleagues, perhaps on the basis that the ‘ends justify the means’. Ultimately the criminal trial would descend into chaos.
As Nottinghamshire Police began to question Green, a complex story began to unfold. Green said he was not at the blues party but could identify the assailants. He told them to check in with a constable called Steve Barker at the Metropolitan Police’s SO11 Intelligence Unit, and all would be explained. Green insisted he was working for the Met and had become involved in gaining intelligence on the local drug scene, particularly as a man with the street name ‘Pepsi’ had relocated to Nottingham from London to sell crack cocaine. Pepsi was supposedly one of the leaders of the Tel Aviv Crew based in Kingston, Jamaica. The Nottinghamshire detectives were highly sceptical. Nevertheless they would have to check out the story before they could carry on with any questioning, particularly as the repercussions could prevent them from charging him for the offences he was suspected of in Nottingham.
What they began to uncover, through little help from the Met, was that Green and two of the other men believed to be involved in the robbery, Rohan ‘Colonel Bumpy’ Thomas and Cecil Thomas, were being actively shielded by Scotland Yard detectives because of their value as informants. Indeed, Green had been deemed so important to the Yard that he was given an A grade informant tag, denoting an agent whose information was prized at the highest possible level. He had his own code name to prevent his identification, a specialist handler who would meet him at prearranged secret locations to pay and debrief him, and a two-year history of providing top intelligence on the Yardies – who had become a serious problem for Scotland Yard in their fight to prevent crack cocaine taking hold in deprived inner-city areas. He was, in fact, Scotland Yard’s most prized asset in the battle against the unpredictable Yardie gangsters. Perhaps the Met thought that Green was an asset worth sticking your neck out for, as they proceeded on a path that seemed to break the conventions of policing, justice and the law.
The detectives from Nottinghamshire were unimpressed. The more they discovered about the nature of Green’s relationship with their London counterparts, the more it strengthened their resolve to see Green put on trial for the robbery on their patch. They did not doubt that he had provided good information on the movement of firearms around the capital and the arrival of Yardies in London, but to turn a blind eye to an armed robbery of 150 out of 200 people at a party was not something they were prepared to do, or to try to justify to the victims. As far as they were concerned, Scotland Yard had effectively done nothing to help with Green’s arrest after the robbery. Moreover, some individuals had effectively helped Green avoid arrest, not least his handler, who had met him during the weeks after the robbery and allowed him to walk away despite the Yard having been told by Nottinghamshire that he should be arrested.
Detective Inspector Michael Leyton was among the senior Nottinghamshire officers trying to track down Green and his accomplices. The team had been given full authority by their bosses to nail the gang, putting them on a collision course with Scotland Yard that would serve neither justice nor the public. They were still in the dark about the extent of Green’s role as an informant even as they tried to solve a major case, and the economy of truth displayed by their fellow agencies was something they could never have predicted. Indeed it would take a court case to flush out the truth.
By July 1993, Green, along with Rohan Thomas, Cecil Thomas, and Steven Crossdale and Errol Lynch, alleged to be the fourth and fifth members of the gang, had been charged with robbery. Three Robinsons from Douggie Man’s side of the family were also arrested: sisters Elaine and Valerie and their brother Leslie. Detectives were convinced some of the Robinsons had played a role in sponsoring Green’s gang to carry out crack cocaine business in the city and, ultimately, exact revenge on the two Birmingham brothers for humiliating members of the Robinson family. The three Robinsons were charged with conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm.
Right up to the start of the trial, at Leicester Crown Court, Scotland Yard concealed the importance of Green’s role as one of their most prized agents. In October 1994, after a few weeks of the trial opening, tactics that seemed almost Machiavellian were used to protect Green, who was pleading not guilty. First a mitigation text, a method sometimes used by police to tell a judge that a defendant has provided crucial information to help solve crime and should be sentenced leniently but without telling the barristers or the jury, was received by the judge from the Metropolitan Police. It indicated that Green had been very helpful in the arrests of a number of cases and should be given credit with a reduced sentence, should he be found guilty. Defence barristers, tipped off about Green’s role in the arrests of his co-defendants, demanded the informant be identified. The prosecution barrister also indicated that senior officers from Scotland Yard were imploring him to abandon the trial. On 14 October, with the truth in danger of coming out, an officer went to the court to see Judge Richard Pollard and ask him not to reveal Green’s identity
Faced with some unpalatable questions, the judge halted proceedings as top-level discussions took place between Nottinghamshire Police, Scotland Yard, Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General. Nottinghamshire Police were astounded to discover that Green had given the Met information about the weapon used in the robbery, who the assailants were, where they were holed up and where some of the jewellery had been fenced. They also learned that the Met’s intelligence report stated that all this information had supposedly been passed on to Nottinghamshire Police during the first few weeks of the investigation, which was news to them. It was suggested that there had either been a calamitous breakdown in communication between the two forces or that the Met was lying. The trial judge also felt that the Met had misled led him and the CPS about Green’s relationship with SO11, and that a senior Met officer had made inappropriate approaches to the judge and counsel in an apparent attempt to scupper the trial. After batting the issue back and forth over a number of weeks, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General ruled that the Met were in the wrong, the role of Green would have to be revealed in court and the trial should continue. After a month away from the courtroom, however, Judge Pollard had no option but to discharge the original jury and call for a retrial. The defendants were remanded in custody.
Faced with nowhere to hide, Green now changed his story once more and began to admit to a catalogue of crimes in Jamaica – eleven murders – as well robberies, shootings and cocaine deals while in London on the payroll of Scotland Yard. He described in graphic detail to Metropolitan Police officers how he had murdered, on behalf of a senior PNP politician, three Yardies suspected of snitching to the Jamaican authorities. He went on to explain how he was spotted carrying out the killing by a passing taxi driver and so executed him too, along with his passenger. Crucially, he was prepared to plead guilty to the robbery in Nottingham and implicate the three members of the Robinson family in the process.
By the time the case finally came to retrial in June 1995, again at Leicester Crown Court, Green had already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to six years in prison. The new trial judge, Mr Justice Smedley, fully aware of what his counterpart Judge Pollard had been put through during the original trial, had some choice words to describe the conduct of the Metropolitan Police. ‘I am very disturbed at the way in which those responsible for handling Mr Green as an informant appear not only to have failed to cooperate but possibly to have impeded inquiries, and that causes me alarm,’ he said. Meanwhile, SO11 had given Green a new identity and placed him in the witness protection prison wing at Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. It was an area reserved for just a handful of supergrasses, including Darren Nicholls, the main witness in the 1998 Essex Range Rover murders fictionalised in the film Essex Boys. The Met clearly still believed Green could be of use to them if he went back to Jamaica.
The retrial jury was told the events at the Ashforth Street warehouse were like a ‘Hollywood-style robbery’. Barristers for the Robinson trio argued forcefully that their clients knew of no bad blood between them and the two Birmingham brothers, and that the gang was simply doing what all Yardie gangs do at blues nights: rob fellow partygoers. By the end of the retrial, the jury was unconvinced that any of the Robinson family had been involved in a conspiracy to commit violence against anyone at the party. Though it was clear from the CCTV images at Heathrow that Elaine Robinson knew Green well, and that a phone linked to her sister Valerie had been used to contact Green right up until the minute the robbery was taking place, all the Robinsons were cleared of the GBH conspiracy charge. The alleged gang members did not fare so well. Rohan ‘Colonel Bumpy’ Thomas was convicted, along with Steven Crossdale. Cecil Thomas and Errol Lynch were cleared but were deported back to Jamaica. Crossdale was eventually cleared on appeal and Thomas, who had been faced with a fourteen-year sentence, had some of his convictions quashed as a result of an appeal which ruled that Green’s evidence could not be relied upon.
Meanwhile Hampshire Police’s Chief Constable, Sir John Hoddinott, was given the role of carrying out a major enquiry into the Metropolitan’s Police handling of Eaton Green and another Yardie, Delroy Denton, who had murdered a woman while on their informant payroll (Delroy Denton was jailed for life in 1996 for the killing of Marcia Lawes). The story of Green’s recruitment emerged from 15,000 pages of evidence collected by Hampshire Police. The report, published in 1999, revealed just how far the authorities were prepared to go in allowing a gun-toting killer to help them in the battle against the Yardies.
Green had arrived on British soil in February 1991, and quickly immersed himself in the Yardie hotspots of Brixton and Hackney, where he found former associates from Jamaica doing a roaring trade in crack cocaine and robberies. By 21 May he had been arrested for a traffic offence by a young constable, Steven Barker. Following a 1am chat with Barker in Brixton Police Station, Green took the only available option to avoid extradition back to Jamaica: he turned grass. Over the next two years he was to provide detailed information to Barker of murders and robberies in London, New York and Jamaica, the traffic of cocaine and firearms into the UK and the movement of Yardies through immigration desks in the UK and United States. He was paid up to £1,000 a time for the 170 detailed reports he gave to Barker, though their sheer scale meant there were rarely the resources to act upon them. But all this time, Green was himself dealing in cocaine and robbing other dealers – with a firearm by his side almost everywhere that he went. ‘Everybody carry gun in Jamaica so we do the same in England,’ he told detectives who would later question him. ‘Sometime we whip it out and shoot up the roof. We just saluting the music.’
During his time as an informer, Green was arrested on three separate occasions by other Metropolitan Police units for possession of crack cocaine but each time his crimes never reached court – until the audacious robbery in Nottingham. Despite this, he was allowed to bring his own associates into the UK, including Rohan Thomas, who had served fourteen years in a Jamaican prison for shooting a policeman, and Cecil Thomas, another Yardie. Both came in on false passports despite the fact that it was known by both Metropolitan Police officers and immigration officials that they had violent pasts and were wanted by the Jamaican authorities. ‘Colonel Bumpy’ alone was believed to have been involved in around ten murders. Two weeks after the robbery in Nottingham, and despite knowing he was on the run from their Nottinghamshire colleagues, the Met’s S011 unit sanctioned a visit by Green to Holland, where he promptly robbed some local dealers at gunpoint with an Uzi machine pistol. Later Steve Barker, after specifically being asked by Nottinghamshire officers and agreeing to help find Green, met the fugitive. Whatever was said during the meeting, Barker did not arrest his informant, allowing him to walk off.
Sir John’s report, which went to the Crown Prosecution Service, stopped short of recommending criminal charges against police and immigration officers involved in the handling of Yardie informers, including Green, even though there seemed to have been possible breaches of the Immigration Act. To prove a misconduct charge, ‘deliberate failure’ or ‘wilful neglect’ would have to have been shown. What did result from the report, however, were sweeping changes in the way informants were handled by all law enforcement agencies. The recommendations resulted in the new Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) of 2000, which specifies a large number of rules to be followed during the handling of ‘human covert resources’ – not least that those recruiting informants should be kept away from those handling informants – and that the informants themselves would have to sign a far-reaching contract which lay them open to prosecution if it was not followed. It would inevitably mean that the Green episode would be harder to repeat but it would also mean fewer officers recruiting informants; ultimately, the intelligence which had been pouring in to those fighting to keep drugs and firearms off the streets would often now come only from criminals hoping to take competitors and opponents out of the game. Officers became reluctant to handle informants, fearing they could be prosecuted themselves if their snitches ran riot, as Eaton Green had done.
By 1997 Green, still in his cell on the Isle of Wight, was fighting a deportation application from Nottinghamshire Police. He was already eighteen months past the time when he could have been freed from his six-year sentence, but found the cell walls at Parkhurst more inviting than freedom on the streets. His lawyer argued that a ‘very senior’ officer from the Met had promised Green, his wife – a British citizen – and his mother protection for the rest of his life and that if he was sent back to Jamaica it would be sending him to certain death, as his status as an informant was now well known due to media coverage of his case. This time the Home Office was not prepared to play ball with Green and the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, took the personal decision to rubber stamp the deportation order. Green was sent back to Kingston a few months later.
John Grieve, head of the S011 team that handled Green, seemed unperturbed. He did, however, apologise for not sending Nottinghamshire the ‘right information in the right format at the right time’. He told reporters, ‘Green was well worth the investment. It is extremely unfortunate and to the detriment of the people of London that we no longer have him.’ Nottinghamshire Police’s Head of CID, Phillip Davies, took a different view. ‘Informants are essential,’ he said. ‘However, there are stringent guidelines and procedures which must be observed if the integrity of the system is to be maintained.’ No doubt his officers wouldn’t disagree with the sentiments of using informants like Green in the ongoing battle against such seemingly impenetrable problems such as Yardie gangs – after all, they have used many such duplicitous informants themselves. Years later, in February 2006, a man whose identity they protected as a witness in a murder case, Trinidadian Trevon Thomas, shot and seriously injured one of their own officers, Rachel Bown, as she investigated a burglary in Lenton. What angered Nottinghamshire Police was that their Scotland Yard counterparts had failed to control their source and then, when presented with the unpalatable truth, tried to protect his identity and stymie the work to arrest him by withholding information. The fallout led to poor relations between the two forces for years. It also led to tensions between local police and the victims of the blues party robbery, who felt Nottinghamshire and the Met were using the black community as pawns in a game between each other.
For Eaton Green it was to be, predictably perhaps, a short-lived existence in Jamaica. On 20 April 2005, police were directed to his Mitsubishi car close to the Central Sorting Office in Kingston. In the boot they found Green’s body, wrapped in tarpaulin and riddled with five bullets, signifying a Yardie execution. Green had been lured from his Craig Town home along with two other men, who were also shot dead. It seems that Green, who had been back for more than three years, had carried on his trigger-happy exploits. Police suspected him of a number of crimes, including the murder of a young woman found dumped at Constitution Hill the previous year. Green was the 508th murder victim in Jamaica in a year that was not even four months old. He was thirty-seven, having passed the average life span of a Yardie criminal by some five years. The scale of the death toll demonstrated just how cheap life in Jamaica had become. The ripple effect, seen in Britain with Yardies like Green and his associates, carried with it a cut-price attitude towards life. By the turn of the century, black-on-black violence had become an everyday occurrence in Nottingham, London, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham. The difference was that the crimes were being committed by a new generation of criminals: so-called homeboys, born and bred into British life who were now setting up their own posses, rapping in patois, dripping in gold jewellery and carrying guns.