Hoods: The Gangs of Nottingham, A Study in Organised Crime (2012)
hile Nottingham’s black gangs succumbed to the lure of crack cocaine, eventually imploding, certain white criminals were making a very tidy profit. One team was led by two brothers Wayne and Dean Hardy, who started off helping to run their father’s profitable scrap metal firm and ended up with a multi-million-pound drug-dealing business. These were men who preferred to use their fists than resort to firepower and by staying out of the street gang culture they were able to make millions from a variety of illicit trades. There was also an element of morality to their drug dealing. Cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy were fine but they never got involved in heroin. Their biggest profits were through the contraband cigarette trade, which at one point was bringing in £70,000 a week. The brothers were always one step ahead of HM Customs – even when a load was busted there were several others going through at the same time, which ensured they were never out of pocket.
Wayne Hardy was helped by an all-powerful figure I shall call ‘the Taxman’. During the early 1990s, when ecstasy sales boomed, recreational pills and amphetamines were being downed like candy and Hardy was one of the major suppliers into the city. He came a cropper in 1996, however, after investigative TV reporter Donal MacIntyre went undercover as a bouncer and exposed the doorman’s milieu in a two-part World in Action programme. Despite nine months of undercover filming it was not the exposé it had hoped to be, and showed nothing more than doormen dealing in speed, taking steroids and working out in the gym. Ironically the biggest drug deal that takes place on film is when MacIntyre himself splashes out several hundred pounds on a ball of cocaine straight off the block, delivered to him by a nervous-looking black youth. MacIntyre had hoped to entice Hardy into a major drug deal but the drugs went missing when MacIntyre handed over the coke to one of Hardy’s associates, who dutifully told MacIntyre he had to throw it out the car window one evening because the police were following him. The impact the programme had was mixed. It didn’t bring down Wayne Hardy, though it did put the heat on him. A large number of bouncers lost their jobs, only to be re-employed later, and Hardy carried on his exploits.
A year later, however, the police did catch up with him when he was busted as he drove back to his flat at Aston Hall in Derbyshire with twenty-five kilos of cannabis resin. After pleading guilty in September 1998, he was sent down for three-and-a-half years and a £104,000 confiscation order was placed on his assets. It was pin money to a man who would later have a property portfolio worth millions, with houses in Florida and Cape Town and interests in a diamond mine. After living for a while in South Africa, he returned to Nottingham in 2005 and was approached by Donal MacIntyre to participate in a follow-up programme ten years on from the 1996 sting. But tragedy, which had a habit of pursuing Hardy, struck as talks about the film got underway: he had already had to deal with a girlfriend who killed their young child and then committed suicide, a son with a terminal illness and a daughter who was addicted to heroin. Then his brother Dean, who had also been approached to take part in the programme, was killed by a lorry on Trent Bridge after stumbling into the road just hours after meeting with a film crew. The programme was finally broadcast in 2007 as part of MacIntyre’s Underworld and was titled ‘Wayne’s World 2’. It depicted Wayne as a reformed criminal who was now more interested in helping former associates run pubs such as the Carlton Hotel and the Porchester.
A few months before the programme went out, Hardy paid a visit to a man called David Gunn at Full Sutton Prison in North Yorkshire. He was there to ask Gunn if he could spare the £80,000 for the drugs that he had supplied to him before he had been arrested. ‘When I get out, Wayne, you can have your money,’ Gunn told him. ‘I hope you can help me out too when the time comes.’
Another white criminal who became a major player during the 1990s, and who had also been heavily involved in cigarette smuggling, was Robert Briggs-Price. A gypsy, Briggs-Price evaded capture for years even though police knew he was one of the major players in the East Midlands, financing smuggling operations up and down the country. Briggs-Price was a larger than life character. He had grown up with his father’s scrap metal business, even using a horse and cart to collect items like a character from Steptoe and Son. He could not read or write – at least until prison gave him the opportunity to learn – but he more than made up for it with his sharp mind. He was the life and soul of any party, and couldn’t stop boasting, which would be his downfall. By 1999 he had made millions from smuggling cannabis and particularly cigarettes into the UK. He lived in a £500,000 home at Latcham Hall, near Newark, owned the £2.7 million Millgate House Hotel, drove various top-of-the-range cars and sported a wealth of jewellery. He would invite criminal associates round to play snooker or cards at his five-bedroom home, where he felt business could be discussed safely in the relaxed surroundings of a home which boasted a swimming pool and the best security system available.
A customs operation was already underway targeting Briggs-Price’s cigarette smuggling enterprise and also Nottinghamshire Police had called in the same mystery experts they had used in Operation Odin to plant electronic bugs in his property – they wanted to nail him for the drug running. In the summer of 1999, police set up Operation Long Island, the beginning of a major probe into Briggs-Price’s firm. Special Forces operatives broke into his home and placed a bug in his favourite armchair; devices were also hidden in headrests in his Mercedes and Range Rover. Video surveillance was placed on one of the warehouses he used in Boughton, Nottinghamshire, where contraband cigarettes were being taken, and through one of Briggs-Price’s associates they infiltrated his gang with an undercover officer. The bugs caught Briggs-Price boasting about bringing in a ton of cannabis every month as well as other criminal ventures.
Police knew that Briggs-Price was smuggling cannabis but when they heard on the bugs that an associate of his, John Barton, was looking for business partners to help bring in 100 kilos of heroin, they decided they could capitalise on the plan by using an undercover man. Barton had extensive drug contacts in Holland and wanted to use Briggs-Price’s illicit transport network to smuggle £10 million of heroin. An undercover officer, who went by the name of ‘Gerry’, was introduced to one of Briggs-Price’s associates and one evening was invited over to Latcham Hall. Posing as a drug smuggler, Gerry brought with him £200,000 in a bin bag, which he said was to pay off someone in a nearby car park on a deal. At the house, Gerry began counting out the money in full view of Briggs-Price while the others played cards. Briggs-Price’s curiosity got the better of him and soon he was asking Gerry whether he wanted to come in on a deal with him to bring some ‘hard stuff’ into the country. Gerry told him he had good transport connections through an Irishman called Sean, who was in fact another undercover cop, and said he would be interested. More discussion took place over subsequent weeks until Briggs-Price was sold on the idea. He told Barton to get in touch with Sean and to go over to Ireland to sort it out. But someone smelled a rat and Barton told the undercover officers that there were some problems with the shipment at its source in Holland. After weeks of silence, Barton made no further contact.
On 21 June 2000, police decided they could wait no longer and swooped on a number of addresses, arresting forty-nine-year-old Briggs-Price and forty-eight-year-old Barton in the process. Briggs-Price was alerted to the police raid when officers shouted through a megaphone for him to come out. He peered out of the window of his property, looking perplexed. Police had surrounded the place with armed officers, closing off Great North Road, while the rotor blade of a helicopter whirred above. Briggs-Price eventually appeared at the front door, hands above his head, looking tanned in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts – he had just returned from a holiday in Florida. It was like something out of Miami Vice, except the weather was not up to scratch.
The case took more than two years to come to court because of the complications over the transcripts of bugged material but, when it did, Briggs-Price felt the full weight of the law. In 2003, he was jailed for seventeen years for the heroin conspiracy and four-and-a-half years for the eight million cigarettes he had brought in. Barton was sentenced to nineteen years for the heroin conspiracy but had amazingly been given bail by a judge and absconded. He is yet to be arrested but was last rumoured to be working alongside a drugs cartel in Spain. Briggs-Price also endured the biggest assets recovery investigation ever undertaken by Nottinghamshire Police. The financial investigators eventually slapped him with a £4.5 million bill, which if not paid would result in extra time in prison.
By now investigators were beginning to make some clear dents in the organised crime structure which had been saturating the city with drugs. Major players had been taken out with the convictions of Dave Francis, Robert Briggs-Price and Wayne Hardy, the threat posed by the Yardie gangs had diminished slightly and some of the posses who had been controlling the NG Triangle were either spent or had taken their eyes off the ball. By 2001, however, a white crime family was slowly building up its influence in the north of the city. This family appeared on the surface to be unsophisticated, lacking the desire to go beyond their geographical boundaries and living up to their image as mere council estate thugs. Yet the fact was, unbeknown to the police at the time, they had already begun to fill the vacuum left by other crime groups which had been dismantled. They had also forged links with another crime family to the north of Nottinghamshire and were about to unleash a wave of violence upon the city. Led by Colin Gunn, the Bestwood Cartel was about to make itself known.
ON A COLD, dark, January evening in 2000, a landlord was called out from his home by a tenant. The landlord, Kevin Musgrove, had been pestered all day by complaints about a broken window to the rear of a property in High Street, Kimberley. His tenant was Godfrey Hibbert, someone Musgrove had got to know through dealings at a garage he owned; Hibbert would pop in to get his car tuned up. But there was one thing Musgrove didn’t know: Hibbert, a former heavyweight boxer, was a prolific criminal and had been one of the main players with Dave Francis in the Meadows Posse.
One day Hibbert overheard Musgrove talking in his garage about the problems he was having getting a tenant and said he might know some people who were looking to rent. A deal was done and the tenants moved in, with Hibbert acting as their guarantor. Musgrove thought nothing more of it. He never met the tenants themselves, and there were a few weeks when the rent didn’t come through and he had to complain to Hibbert, but Hibbert always sorted it out. Then Musgrove received the call about the window and eventually agreed to take a look to see if it could be easily fixed. When he arrived, Hibbert was waiting outside. Musgrove noticed the broken window and decided to go inside for a better look. The doors proved difficult to open but eventually they got in and were confronted by a property which appeared bare and unlived-in.
‘Looks like they’ve gone,’ said Musgrove. ‘Done a runner by the looks. But what am I going to do about the rent? You vouched for them, Godfrey, what are you going to do?’
But the rent was not on Hibbert’s mind. He was worried about something else. He knew something of great value had gone missing.
Several days earlier, police, supposedly acting on a tip-off from a neighbour who had taken down the registration number of Hibbert’s car after seeing suspicious activity at the rented house, had broken in and discovered 300 kilos of cannabis, worth a potential £1.4 million. The cannabis had actually been at the property for several weeks, having been moved there from elsewhere in the city. It had been bought in Leicester from a major dealer called Tony Singh Hare, later jailed in a huge Leicestershire Police operation. The drugs had been bought by Colin Gunn. Hibbert, who was using a man called Kevin (not Musgrove) to babysit the property, was keeping it safe for Gunn until it could be sold. Having discovered the cannabis, the police moved it and placed a covert camera and listening device in the building, hoping to catch the owners of the drugs. Although it has never publicly been confirmed, the police also almost certainly caught someone after they raided the house on the earlier date – perhaps the Kevin who was merely minding the drugs for Gunn and Hibbert – and turned him as an informant to help catch a bigger fish.
Hibbert, who was well known to the police, had already been into the property earlier that day. The video camera showed him clearly walking into the house at around 1.40pm and putting his hand to his mouth once he realised the cannabis was missing. So why did the police wait more than five hours for Musgrove to turn up? They would say later that they had missed Hibbert going into the property and the raid that took place at the first opportunity they had to make arrests.
At around 7pm on 10 January, within a few minutes of the two men going inside, officers from Operation Firecracker swooped. They had no evidence or intelligence that Musgrove was a drug dealer and he answered all their questions dutifully. He was not told about the bug and was not aware of it until a later date but all his answers were honest. Musgrove was, as he was later described in court, a person of good character. However, he was charged with conspiracy to supply class B drugs. Though he was shocked by his arrest and the charges laid by the police, Musgrove at this point still had faith in the justice system. He was sure the jury would be able to see that he was no a drug dealer. But voice analysis experts – at least one of whom was professionally discredited on a later case – were allowed to make claims about the bugged conversations and the jury was allowed to make conclusions about a moment when the two men talk in whispers for a few seconds, implying they both knew there was a bug in the property. Surprisingly, Musgrove was found guilty along with Hibbert. After the High Street bust, officers were immediately able to gain a search warrant for Hibbert’s small jewellery shop, Go Fast, in St James Street, where, after a second search (the first having been fruitless despite the presence of sniffer dogs), they found about £200,000-worth of heroin stashed in an alcove. Though he was certainly involved in the cannabis shipment, and had a long criminal record, Hibbert was not known as a major heroin dealer and claimed to believe the heroin had been planted: he suspected someone had set him up. Musgrove received an eight-year sentence at Nottingham Crown Court and Hibbert ten years for the cannabis and thirteen years, at a later date, for the heroin seizure.
After the two were found guilty and led down to the cells, two burly men came to see Hibbert. The pair were heard by people in the custody area thanking him for not saying anything and indicated that they would look after his family while he was locked up. The men were brothers Colin and David Gunn.
After just a few weeks in prison, Musgrove began asking a lot of questions about who was behind this drug shipment. He got some answers and he started to rattle some cages. Meanwhile his wife Dianne, who had no doubts about her husband’s innocence, put posters and sheet banners around the local area with the words ‘Kevin Musgrove is innocent’ to draw attention to the injustice that she had no doubt has been inflicted upon her husband and family. The posters attracted a lot of attention and news of the campaign reached Colin Gunn. He dispatched four men to the Musgroves’ home, armed with baseball bats, and Dianne and her teenage son were severely beaten. ‘Tell that fat bastard husband of yours to keep his mouth shut,’ one of the thugs warned her. ‘You put any more banners up, we’ll kill the both of you.’ The same evening, Kevin Musgrove’s garage was razed to the ground. The insurance company later told him that his insurance was nullified because of his recent conviction. A few days later, Dianne Musgrove was summoned to a gym used by her son, where some men were waiting to meet her. She was told to answer a mobile phone which was given to her. On the other end was a voice she did not recognise but she was told it was Colin Gunn.
‘Tell your husband to keep his mouth shut or there will be more of the same,’ said the voice.
Fortuitously for the police, the raiders left a baseball bat behind, mistakenly picking up one in the house owned by her son as they left. It had DNA on it, and could have identified one of her assailants. After a few weeks the baseball bat went missing from the police’s exhibits. No one was able to find it.
Kevin Musgrove eventually served four years in prison. When he came out on parole, assets investigators demanded £200,000 which they said was his share of the value of the cannabis, even though the cannabis never was his and he had made nothing from the sale of illegal drugs. When I met him, he had not long completed his sentence and there did not, on the surface, seem to be a great deal to explore. He had been convicted, after all, by a jury of twelve people ‘true and good’. But once he had finished telling me his story I had no doubt that a serious miscarriage of justice had taken place. His greatest crime was to be naïve in not checking out the tenant of his property. The police had asked him why he hadn’t checked up on his tenants with regular visits. That may be a priority in the current age of hydroponic cannabis factor-ies in rented properties, but this was 2000 and such checks were only made then by the most circumspect of landlords. The evidence on which he was convicted was circumstantial at best and, though Musgrove’s legal team was given disclosure in the case, they believe that there should have been more video footage from the surveillance bug. They also suspected that there was a participating informant used by the police, which was not disclosed to his defence team.
More information emerged about Musgrove’s miscarriage of justice after the first publication of this book. A deal had indeed been done between a police officer and Colin Gunn which was brokered through a solicitor used by Gunn. In essence the deal was this: Gunn would tell them all about the drugs found in the house in Kimberley if he was given a favourable outlook on his own case for which there had been an arrest warrant issued after he failed to answer bail on grievous bodily harm charges over a fight outside the Astoria nightclub in 1998 (see here). Secondly, questions were also being asked about why the judge who had heard the original outline of the prosecution case against Kevin Musgrove during his first few appearances at Nottingham Crown Court in February and March 2000, and who had told the prosecution in open court he would not countenance the use of a serious drug dealer as an informant, was replaced with another judge before the case went to trial. At the time of writing, a submission regarding these matters and others which raise serious questions over the handling of Musgrove’s case was being drawn up for Criminal Cases Review Commission, which will decide whether to refer it to the Court of Appeal. It is hard to see what Musgrove could have done to prevent the catastrophe that befell him. He had to sell everything to pay a drug debt which wasn’t his. He no longer has a garage and has to use the facilities of a friend but, more than anything else, he is desperate to prove his innocence.
If Musgrove’s case is placed alongside that of another drugs case which took place a year earlier, the injustice seems even more acute. In spring 1999, customs investigators had been tracking a large shipment of cannabis and amphetamines from a French HGV all the way off a ferry at Dover. Part of the shipment had been destined to go to the Gunns and their Bestwood Cartel. Customs men trailed a van which came off the ferry from Calais and watched closely as it made its way to Quarry Farm, off the A46 near Newark. There several men began to load the forty-tonne lorry and place items into a transit van. With the players seemingly caught red-handed, the call sign for the strike was given.
Six men were arrested at the scene and the customs officers then moved in to survey the smuggled goods. At first they believed they had a 300-kilo haul of cocaine and cannabis. Only later, after analysis, were the drugs properly identified. Altogether there were 156 packages of cannabis and 258 packages of amphetamine sulphate with a street value of around £4.3 million. The trial was eventually scheduled to take place in Manchester the following year. All the paperwork was completed and in due course it would be for a jury to decide the defendants’ guilt or innocence. The defendants included a former Nottingham police officer who, according to evidence given in court, was seen unloading the lorry and helping to load up the transit along with another local man. Four others from Liverpool, Manchester, West Yorkshire and Blackburn were also in the dock.
The case opened at Manchester Crown Court in September 2000, and all seemed to go well until, on the third day, the prosecution and defence teams asked to see Judge Michael Henshell in chambers. Two days of legal discussions then began behind closed doors. Then the judge called the jury back into court and explained that they would not have to sit through the trial any further or be called upon to make a judgement on any evidence they had so far heard. The prosecutors were throwing in the towel. It was a further day before the Customs investigators had anything to say in public and when they did no one was any the wiser as to what lay behind it all. Peter Hollier, a senior Customs and Excise investigations officer, defended the decision as best he could but some felt there was a hollow ring to his words. ‘This is an internal Customs and Excise decision,’ he told reporters. ‘We have stayed proceedings – this means they will not stand trial. It was a major boost seizing the drugs before they got onto the streets and we put a lot of effort into the case but we are sure this is the right decision.’
Clearly there must have been a good reason why the case of Kevin Musgrove had gone ahead, despite there being no evidence of a business partnership between Hibbert and Musgrove other than through the tenancy of 1 High Street. If any suspicions had been raised about a participating informant then it is unlikely Musgrove would have stood trial. And clearly there was a good reason why Customs chose to stay the prosecution in the case of the Newark drugs trial, but no one seemed able or willing to explain to the general public. The likelihood is that it was also connected in some way with another case or an informant whose position could have been jeopardised by the Newark case going ahead. But there was one other common thread running through this, aside from the likelihood of informants being used. In both cases, the drugs were destined for Colin Gunn, and yet in neither of the cases was anyone from the Bestwood Cartel in the dock. This was to be a story which would be repeated a number of times in the future. When Robert Briggs-Price was under surveillance during 1999 and 2000, a number of calls were intercepted from a phone linked to Colin Gunn, but National Crime Squad operatives, who were responsible for monitoring all the calls going in and out to Briggs-Price, wrote off the material, saying it had not been possible to decipher what was contained in the conversations.
By 2000, there appeared to be some kind of force field around Colin Gunn that prevented the law enforcement agencies getting anywhere near him. The police in Nottingham were also fighting a second front in the form of another outbreak of black-on-black gun crime in the city centre and had set up a specialist team, as Scotland Yard had done with Operation Trident, to tackle the problem. It was called Operation Stealth, and while manpower was concentrated on Stealth, there were few eyes watching what was going on in Bestwood.
DAVID AND COLIN Gunn grew up initially in Eastwood, just outside Nottingham. David was born first, in 1965, and Colin followed on 29 March 1967. In part they were clichéd by-products of a single-parent family, along with another brother, Andy, and a sister, Julie. Their father had left the family home when they were young and they lacked a stable male role model. When the opportunity arose to move to Bestwood, their mother, Carol Mills – who later married a man called Stephen Hudson, grabbed the chance. She had friends on the estate and it was nearer to the city centre. Bestwood, once a mining village but now a sprawling post-war estate of red brick semi-detached homes properties on the northern edge of Nottingham, would become their fiefdom. Colin, in particular, would come to dislike migrating anywhere outside of it.
One event in their formative years gives an early clue to the contradictions within them. As teenagers they appeared in a local church magazine article which praised their crime-busting heroics. A street robber had attacked a woman and made off with her purse. Colin and David gave chase and apprehended the man before giving the thankful woman her purse back. How accurate the reported incident is must be open to conjecture, but at the same time as they were apparently battling crime on their streets they were known as bruisers in the playground at Henry Whipple Junior School, where David met his future (now estranged) wife Sandie. In those early days, the older David had the more fearsome reputation, though not as far as Sandie was concerned: ‘He and his family had moved from Eastwood and I was the gaffer, like the main girl at the school. He was a bit cheeky to me and we had a bit of a fight. I won and we decided that we quite liked each other,’ she told the Nottingham Evening Post. It was the beginning of what would later become a twenty-year marriage.
By the time they reached Padstow Comprehensive School, Colin was fast catching up. To fellow pupils, Colin Gunn was bully-in-chief, intimidating others with his cold, steely eyes. ‘If anyone stared at him too long he would come over and beat the living daylights out of them,’ said one ex-pupil. ‘Even then he seemed paranoid. If you got on with him then you became part of his gang and he would protect you. He never excelled at anything in school except bullying and fighting in the playground and having his mates around him to show he had a bit of power. I guess even though he came away without any academic qualifications he took some of the lessons he learned in the playground with him. One thing stands out and that is that none of the other kids would ever think to grass him up, not if they wanted to go home in a healthy condition anyway. Even then he knew how to use the power of fear over other people.’
By the time he was only just into his teens, Colin was already carrying out burglaries on the local estate and mixing with older people who were veterans of credit card and cheque fraud. It was his financial dealings that first got him into trouble. He was part of a gang run by another family, with whom he would remain in close contact in later years, who were kiting cheques around the city. The scam was run by one of the Dawes family, who later based themselves in Sutton-in-Ashfield, in north Nottinghamshire, and it ran into tens of thousands of pounds. Colin, then in his late teens, received his first custodial sentence of six months. One young officer who interviewed him at the time said there was nothing in his nature to mark him out from scores of other crim-inals doing the same thing: ‘He was just an average, run-of the-mill, petty criminal. He didn’t seem at all bothered that he had been arrested or that he was looking at prison time for the first time in his life. If anything he was probably looking forward to it in the sense of it being a badge of honour.’ At around the same age, David was arrested but no charges followed, though he was to later be convicted of other crimes including threats to kill and possession of offensive weapons.
By the early 1990s, with both in their mid-twenties, David and Colin were steadily clocking up convictions such as burglary, theft, handling stolen goods and violence. Like other fledgling criminal gangs, they built up their enterprise by banking on the people they had grown up with and who they could trust. Most were from the estate, though there were others from Sherwood and even further afield who had good drug supply connections in Leicestershire. Some were minions but would later rise to be lieutenants in the command tree of the criminal group, like Jamie Neil, who came from gypsy stock. Others were already well respected and trusted by Colin, men such as Dave ‘Baz’ Barrett and Kevin Warsop. All of them would play their part in helping to control various criminal activities on their patch and all would become members of the Bestwood Cartel – a name coined by the gang itself. For each person who swore loyalty to the brothers, there was an extended family in all sorts of jobs who could help them out.
‘It was mad, like you could find out anything,’ said one former associate. ‘Somebody had a relative in the council who had access to this or that, could find out where so-and-so had been moved to if they owed a debt and they needed to be tracked down, somebody else’s girlfriend worked for social services, so-and-so had a couple of mates working for British Telecom, all that kind of thing. If you wanted to find someone it was no bother, you could trace just about anybody and the beauty of it was that the people doing the favours never really knew they were ultimately doing it for a criminal enterprise. They were our friends.’
Colin and David realised that for all the brawn needed to maintain the standing of their Bestwood Cartel, they also needed information. Information was power. The growing army proved to be useful in all sorts of ways and the brothers, too, were united. ‘You knew that you couldn’t upset either Colin or David if you wanted a quiet life,’ said another former associate. ‘They looked after each other; they were pretty close in those days. David would be the only one who could get away with taking the piss out of Colin. Colin had this kind of compulsive obsessive fear thing about dirty ashtrays and fag ends and one stunt David would pull would be to fill up Colin’s coat pockets in the pub with the contents of various ashtrays while he went off to the bog. When he came back in David would just sit there and watch as the touch paper was lit and Colin would go berserk until David calmed him back down. On the other hand I think it was Dave who got Colin into the coke big time and that was a big mistake.’
Colin was forging stronger links with the crime family he previously had been involved with in cheque fraud. It was run by brothers John and Rob Dawes and their friend Gary Hardy, the son of a Hell’s Angel leader in north Nottinghamshire. Colin was also talking deals with people like Robert Briggs-Price and John Paul Allen, a major dealer from Woodthorpe, Nottingham. Allen was eventually jailed following a drugs bust and went on to receive life sentences for ordering the shooting of a young associate, Ian Taylor, who, Allen wrongly believed, was about to grass him up. David Gunn, meanwhile, was cementing links with other major criminals like Wayne Hardy (no relation to Gary), who supplied amphetamines and cannabis wholesale to the Cartel, and Jonathan ‘Donny’ Quinn, who was trying to build up a drugs and tobacco smuggling operation with criminals in the Sheffield and Doncaster areas of South Yorkshire.
The Gunn brothers stepped up their criminal activities in Bestwood, nearby Bulwell and Arnold. On leaving school, Colin worked as a doorman and soon discovered this was a good way to supply recreational drugs to those who wanted them. He gave the job up though after he was on the receiving end of a beating, losing some teeth outside one venue in a fight with somebody who had no respect for any reputation that preceded the brothers. It wasn’t the only fight he lost. ‘After a few incidents when Colin and David got battered, though mainly Colin, they grew to hate the city centre,’ said one associate. ‘Colin in particular felt vulnerable when he went into town. He expected people to respect him but of course to other players in the city he was just a nobody from Bestwood. He was a big lad and had a short fuse and attracted trouble and he was inevitably a target for bruisers who were a bit more tasty than him. You had people like [the Taxman] and the Hardy brothers who already had a massive reputation for being able to look after themselves and their domain was Carlton, Sneinton and the city centre. I think it was about this time that Colin got sick of going into the city centre and ending the evening with a fight, and he started to get this attitude of, well fuck ’em then, I’ll show them what I can do on my own patch.’
And for the most part, Colin Gunn did stick to his own patch. By the late 1990s he was running a large operation which spanned money lending, burglaries, extortion, robbery, drugs, car ringing and fraud. He enforced his leadership with extreme violence. Colin was also beginning to use police officers extensively, something some knew and others didn’t. His corruption of officers had started in an innocent fashion. He would pass on information to a few well-chosen officers in return for favours. Many justified giving information back to him on the basis that they believed there were bigger fish to catch and the information he was giving them was grade A1. Some even felt that the Gunns were looking after the estate in a perverse kind of way. The brothers even had one safe house where they stored drugs in the city ‘looked after’ by an officer who lived nearby. He would warn them if there was ever a potential raid coming up at the property.
The relationship with police officers was self-serving: it gave Colin Gunn the means by which he could take out competitors by passing on tip-offs about drug or cigarette shipments that were coming in. It also kept the police and other law enforcement agencies away from his own activities, to an extent. There were fringe benefits as well, since the closer that the Cartel got to some officers, the more they learned of police methods. They could then pinpoint flaws which could be exploited and used as leverage if they ever needed to get themselves out of a sticky situation. Police officers were also only human. It was only a matter of time before some of the more weak-willed might be compromised by something. They came in a variety of guises: some were tired detectives from the old school, waiting to clock up their ‘thirty service’ for the pension and had forgotten what they joined the police force for. Others were young men who were compromising themselves from the day they took their police oath. Their weaknesses also came in diverse forms; from greed to dependence to selfishness to naivety. The limitations of their standards meant they could easily succumb to a line of cocaine or a prostitute – at least that was the way the villains now saw it.
By 2001, such was Colin Gunn’s reputation as a provider of good information that he was trailed by a police officer with a National Crime Squad background. The officer wanted him to become a registered informant, but questions were asked when the application went in. One officer said, ‘With all the information that was coming in from the army of people who were effectively working for him, he must have begun to think he could become invincible. Certainly by 2001 he was approaching a better network of intelligence than the police had. There had been rule changes in the use of informants, particularly after the Eaton Green case, and at the same time as it was becoming more complicated and difficult for us to get informants on board, Gunn and his crew were recruiting like there was a war about to happen.’
By this time Colin, who had been on steroids for more than a decade, was also using cocaine regularly. The combination of the two drugs was a timebomb. Colin’s propensity for violence was itself becoming like a drug. He craved seeing fear in his victim’s faces and took pleasure in inflicting extreme pain upon men or women. Incidents began to filter through to the police about tortures being used on people. There was the man who Colin thought was going to grass him up. He was taken to a remote area outside Bestwood and his hand nailed to a wooden bench. Then he was saturated in petrol while Colin toyed with a flame. It was almost as if he was playing out a role in a gangster movie. While he enjoyed putting a smile on to the faces of elderly people on the Bestwood estate, who received him warmly like a regal visitor to their homes, he seemed to get a bigger kick out of seeing dread in people’s eyes. And if they expected to get a beating, or worse, then who was he to disagree with the penalty?
‘His favourite punishment for those that displeased him – and sometimes it was over a hundred quid or less – was to have the person kidnapped and then taken somewhere quiet out the way,’ said a former associate. ‘Colin would then turn up and that person would then have their hands held down while Colin got a hammer or a baseball bat out the boot of the car and start smashing the person’s knuckles. Colin would smash one knuckle and then get someone to hold the other one and he would say, “Don’t flinch. If you flinch you get it on the other one. Nobody rips me off, understand?” This happened on a regular basis and believe me they never displeased him ever again. Colin also used to get really paranoid about people looking at him when he went in the pubs. Some unfortunate would get a right pasting and sometimes they never knew why. As far as Colin was concerned they always looked guilty when he eyeballed them and saw how scared they were, so he took that as a sign.’
People who were on the receiving end of his almost psychopathic violence would rarely go to the police and if they did they soon got a visit from a member of the Cartel, who told them what would happen if they testified. A police officer who dealt with the Bestwood Cartel said, ‘By the late nineties, they were running protection rackets all over Bestwood. The fact that shopkeepers and businessmen don’t talk about that to this day is a testament to the fear that was being created. Their modus operandi was to visit a business and ask to see the gaffer. Colin would point out to the boss that his security was not very good and for a hundred quid or more a week, Colin pledged to make sure they were safe. Often the businessmen would just shrug off the initial visit and send them packing. The same evening something would happen to the business – it was either burgled or the windows would be shot up or it would be attacked by arsonists. Most of the businessmen paid, those that didn’t received a second visit and Colin would drive up past the business, call out to the gaffer and feign a gun pointed at the boss with his hand. It usually achieved the desired effect.’
One scam that Colin masterminded was the kidnap of a criminal associate, which was to bring the Cartel more than £200,000. The associate, who dealt in a little cocaine and cannabis but mainly made his money from large-scale cigarette smuggling, owed Colin and David some money which had been lent out on a property he was buying. He was already paying them £1,000 a week protection money to allow him to trade in various criminal enterprises on their patch and call on their henchmen for any ‘business problems’. Colin took the house as part payment on the debt, which was worth close to £200,000, and then, with the agreement of the associate himself, had him kidnapped by a gang of gypsies, who drugged him and obeyed the order to ‘rough him up a little’ with some relish. The businessman’s Spanish-based father and some of his criminal associates put up the ransom money, which was then split various ways, with some of it going back to the ‘kidnap victim’ himself.
According to former associates, Colin Gunn also had a penchant for teenage girls. If he took a fancy to someone on a night out, and they were with their boyfriend, Gunn would go up to the young man and simply tell him he had two choices: either the girl went home with him or he had to take a beating. He was also fiercely protective of anyone who had relationship problems, relatives and those considered to be part of the Cartel. Anyone finishing a relationship with one of the junior members of the extended family would be looking over their shoulder if they chose to move on to someone new. Most learned not to incur Colin Gunn’s wrath but if he found out and they were still living on the estate they would be hounded out or would get a visit threatening violence if their new relationship carried on. One woman, who fears for her life to this day, told me how she was sought out by Gunn. ‘I was out with a girlfriend of one of his top men at a pub where he was and he just wouldn’t let me leave when she went. And the next thing I remember is waking up the next morning. He’d obviously drugged me. So I haven’t got a clue what happened to me. It could have been anything. I knew who he was and wouldn’t have gone anywhere near him, so he had to drug me.’ Despite this, she had a brief relationship with Gunn – she says out of fear.
One night he tried to suffocate her, so she went to the police. It would result in her eventually going into witness protection and being unable to see her young daughter for more than a year: ‘They put me into police protection, saying I was in danger, but what they were obviously doing was trying to get me to give evidence against him. I wouldn’t sign anything because I was too scared, then they said they’d got enough evidence so they didn’t need my statement. At the same time I was getting messages passed to me saying that my family was in danger if I didn’t come out of witness protection – and that I shouldn’t be a naughty girl and say anything. So I had no choice. What can you do when your family’s being threatened? I came out and went to stay with a friend in London, but the police tracked me down there and told me how worried they were about me.
‘I know there’s a bullet with my name on it. Sometimes I think I should just go back and take what’s coming because I know they will find me. I know he’s got people all over the country looking for me. Colin used to brag about how he had cops in his pockets and it’s true. During the few weeks I spent with him, he used to tell me things that made me shudder. He even told me about this guy who’d been fed to the pigs and when he talked about the people who’d been killed by his gang it was as if he was just ticking off a things-to-do list. He’d say, “He’s gone and he’s gone,” as casually as if they were away on holiday, but these were people he’d had killed.’
At the same time, both Colin and David were capable of grandiose acts of compassion, particularly to families on the estate who had been the victims of crime or who were struggling financially, such as the elderly. A number of people told me about regular incidents where Colin would pop cash into an envelope and card, sometimes up to £100, and post it to old people who were celebrating birthdays. One year the brothers paid for a huge firework display on Guy Fawkes Night for all the community to enjoy. One woman didn’t have enough money for a cake for her five-year-old’s birthday and David popped round and sorted it out. Another elderly woman who had lost her husband and was fearful of being burgled talked about the time Colin came round to put her mind at rest. He told her not to worry and that he would be looking out for her. And he did, as far as she was concerned, because as soon as he was jailed, her house was burgled for the first time. Then there was the couple who had been burgled and lost their jewellery: ‘David came around to see us and he was so polite,’ said the woman. ‘He took his shoes off at the door and he listened intently to what had happened and the fact we would probably never see the jewellery and stuff back again and he said, “Don’t worry, we’ll sort it out for you. We’ll get your stuff back.” And he was true to his word. A few days later we had most of the stuff back. He’s a good lad.’
The fact was that the Cartel’s tentacles stretched so far within the criminal world that even if the burglary hadn’t been done by their own people, they knew who it had been done by and could trace them quickly. The tales of returned plunder were not propagated by people who were part of the Cartel, these were genuine, law-abiding citizens who could see little wrong in the Gunn brothers and felt they were looking after the local community. When Colin walked into his local chemists on the estate to get his regular prescriptions, the queue in the shop would part to let him to the front, such was the respect he commanded. More than that, people felt the Gunn brothers were doing the job the police should have been doing.
This had two consequences. Firstly, it made it difficult for those people to believe the stories they might have heard about the darker side of the Gunn brothers, particularly if they came from the police. Secondly, it bolstered the support that the Gunn brothers were getting so that, as every day passed, the police found it more and more difficult to get a foothold in the estate. If it was an intentional strategy then it was an act of criminal genius, because it ensured that the Bestwood Cartel was perceived by residents to be the true police force on the estate, the real authority in the community, and a significant number of people stopped ringing the police as a result. In turn that meant the crime figures were also giving a false picture of what was going on in Bestwood. ‘If you had a beef about anything or with anyone you went to Colin and David before you went anywhere else – that was the rule and that included any police officers who wanted a quiet life,’ one resident told me. ‘Those that didn’t follow the rules didn’t get any help, simple as that, and quite often would be targeted under the assumption that they were grasses for the police. In return for what Colin or David did for you, they demanded total loyalty and often, though not always, would ask for the favour to be returned. God help you if you refused.’
At the same time as they were instilling some sense of community, however warped, into the area, they were branching out into areas such as money-lending, targeting poor families who needed some extra money for things like Christmas or birthdays – and if the borrower couldn’t pay up then they could come to some other arrangement. Some people’s houses were taken over so that drugs could be dealt from them, or hydroponic cannabis farms set up. Some were asked to commit crime. A former officer who worked at nearby Oxclose Lane Police Station, where the Gunn brothers had a relative working as a cleaner, conceded that by the time police started to realise what was happening on the estate, it was too late. ‘We let the area down and then when we realised the impact that was having it was too late,’ he said. ‘It had almost become a no-go zone for us. No one wanted to work up there because of the intimidation so it was nigh on impossible to get a regular beat officer up there who would do the work and get in with the community. It was like going into a paramilitary area in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles. I remember one time the bosses were getting so much grief about the lack of bobbies on the estate that they offered us double time to do patrols but there were no takers at all.’
Officers brave enough to take up the crusade against them soon learned the consequences of their actions. ‘Colin and David Gunn had the means to know where we all lived, make no mistake about that,’ the ex-officer said. ‘One time there was a detective who had pissed them off being a bit too good at the job and not checking in with them. They sent someone up there to shoot out his windows. I mean people wanted to do their jobs properly but what was the cost going to be to them and their families?’
Colin became increasingly unstable and erratic. He would sometimes explode at the slightest thing and usually lashed out at the first person he saw, leaving others to pick up the pieces and wrap the broken bones. His psychotic alter-ego was beginning to surface more frequently than his community-spirited, Robin Hood persona, and he was starting to believe in his own myth as a type of real-life Tony Montana in Scarface – an all-seeing, all-powerful man who could control the lives of anybody around him. But like Tony Montana, and his fictional descent into hell, Colin was breaking the drug dealer’s number one rule: never get high on your own supply. He would gather his selected inner circle to a room in one of the pubs they controlled, depending on which was the favoured venue at the time, and preside over mafia-style boardroom meetings to plan various criminal enterprises and discuss any problems the Cartel was having with other criminals. His girlfriend, Victoria Garfoot, who had loyally stood by him since her teens, would regularly complain that they should go to live abroad in a nice house and get away from Bestwood. But Bestwood was everything to Colin – there he could be a big fish and everyone would look up to him with respect. The couple, who would have four children, would eventually move to a large bungalow in Revelstoke Way, in nearby Rise Park, with a high-tech security system, electric gates and a gold-plated mailbox and address plaque, but Bestwood was in Colin Gunn’s blood. He loved adorning his cars with personalised plates and had one vehicle fitted with the registration plate POWER; his favourite Porsche Carrera was fitted with the plate BIG UN, his nickname to all except his brother, who had by now taken to affectionately calling him Fats. The years of steroid abuse were beginning to manifest physical signs. Colin was overweight as well as being on a short fuse.
COLIN GUNN MADE an ill-fated trip into the centre of Nottingham on a stag night in October 1998. He was to be best man at the wedding of a member of the Cartel who collected money for them. Some of the gang, including Colin, travelled into town for drinks. The group ended up at the Astoria (later the Ocean) nightclub, near the Broadmarsh Centre, and, worse for wear from a cocktail of drugs and drink, Colin got into his usual dispute with a reveller whose crime was not to know that you didn’t answer Colin Gunn back without the red mist descending. A huge fight erupted, ending with Colin and another Cartel member beating their victim senseless. The group made their way back to the safety of Bestwood but the reveller reported the incident to police. They arrested Gunn at a property in Radley Square, Bulwell, and another man, Kevin Warsop, at a house in Raymede Drive. The duo did not come quietly, fighting fiercely with several officers as they were arrested.
This time, Gunn was in trouble. His victim was prepared to pursue GBH charges and apparently CCTV footage of the incident was held by the nightclub. Gunn skipped bail and decided to lay low in Skegness, where his mum had the family caravan, and also travelled out to Spain, where he had allies who would give him sanctuary. There he could wait out any possible prosecution, giving him time to do something about the witness statements if the worst came to the worst. He needed as much help as he could muster, as within a short space of time police had issued an arrest warrant for him. The favours included the help of another villain who had some access to the club. This man, who when he was not helping out the brothers was supplying cocaine around the city, got hold of the only CCTV tapes and ensured they were destroyed before the police could seize them. At a later date he was able to call on the aid of a doctor who provided Gunn with a statement that said he had been prescribed a number of pills for a variety of ailments and the cocktail of the drugs had such a side effect that this would explain the violence at the nightclub. It had the desired result. Colin Gunn returned back to Bestwood, faced court and was given a few hundred hours’ community service instead of a potential prison sentence of five years. Then he stuck his other two fingers up at the system by getting an impostor to complete the community service.
The same year, Colin and David’s sister Julie was involved in an incident which made national headlines and consolidated their reputation as a family you just didn’t get into an argument with. Julie Gunn went to Henry Whipple Junior School in Bestwood after her nine-year-old son, Sam, complained that a teacher had made him sit in front of the class for being naughty. She disputed teacher Jeanelle Brown’s account of how much time Sam had been punished for and lashed out, breaking the teacher’s nose. Jeanelle Brown later needed several operations to repair the damage. Julie Gunn was subsequently order to perform 240 hours’ community service. The story made the Daily Mail in July 1998, raising a debate about violence in the classroom and the lack of discipline in parents. Gunn apologised and said she had not known what had come over her. ‘I was annoyed, like any mum would be,’ she said. ‘I accept what I did was wrong and I know how close I came to a jail sentence.’
Meanwhile David Gunn, who was living in Leybourne Drive in Bestwood with wife Sandie, bringing up three children with a fourth on the way, was facing problems of his own. Just a month after Colin’s nightclub fracas, he was about to face the courtroom himself on charges of assault and threats to kill. He had been accused of brutally attacking a man who had dared to get into a row with Sandie in a pub. In November 1997, Keith Copeland had ticked off a child in the Standard of England pub after he heard her make a racist remark. Then he started arguing with Sandie, who claimed he slapped her. David, who was drinking in the pub, exploded with rage – nobody took liberties with a Gunnie without consequences. He launched a sustained assault, knocking Copeland unconscious and kicking him repeatedly as he lay on the floor. Copeland, who lived in Bestwood, was left with a broken arm, nose and ribs and needed stitches to a head wound.
Two months later, Copeland tracked down David Gunn to the Sporting Chance At The Goose Fair pub. There he confronted him and tape-recorded him admitting the attack. David threatened to shoot him if he saw him again. When the case came to court, Gunn denied he was even in the Standard of England on the night Copeland was beaten up. He said he had in fact been in the Sporting Chance that night and had witnesses to prove it. But by a majority verdict of 10-2, he was convicted at Nottingham Crown Court of grievous bodily harm and threats to kill.
Mr Justice Poole, presiding over the case, said there had been some provocation on Copeland’s part but added, ‘This kind of behaviour is quite intolerable and I have no alternative but to send you to prison.’ On 27 November 1998, he jailed Gunn to four years and nine months. It was a shock to the defendant, who had not expected such a heavy sentence and was desperate to keep out of prison with a baby on the way. He was also suffering from diabetes and had no faith in the health care within the prison system. Colin was even more affected by the sentence. Now he would have to run the Cartel without the support of his brother and without the stabilising influence that some of the Cartel believed David brought to Colin’s decision-making.
Nottinghamshire Police were pleased one of the Gunn brothers had been taken off the street but had been preoccupied with taking down other crime groups involved in drugs using sophisticated covert methods, which had resulted in the convictions of Wayne Hardy in September 1998 and would eventually result in the arrests and convictions of Robert Briggs-Price and Dave Francis by 2000. The jailing of Francis in particular left a gap in the East Midlands drugs market, from wholesale to street level. Colin Gunn could see this was well worth exploiting and set about recruiting middle-tier dealers who could negotiate their way through the tribal ganglands of the Meadows estate, St Ann’s and Radford. The Cartel would move into heroin and cocaine in a big way, the very drugs that Francis’s street dealers had been peddling in large quantities.
Having seen three members of the Gunn family convicted of criminal offences within a single year, the police were about to embark on an operation which, had it been followed through to its logical conclusion, would have halted David and Colin’s growing influence in its tracks and perhaps saved lives. The operation would be called Opal and it already had in its sights the very dealers Colin Gunn was recruiting. But Colin was also working on an audacious plan that he hoped would protect the long term future of the Cartel and their associates. Its success would eventually leave a trail straight back to his door, but for a time it would help the Cartel stay a step ahead of the police. The idea came to him after visiting one of his favourite clothes stores, Limey’s, in the centre of Nottingham. As one of the shop’s best customers, Colin had become very friendly with two of the employees, Jason Grocock, the store manager and one of his sales assistants, Charles Fletcher. An impressionable young man, he had expensive tastes in clothes. When Charlie told Gunn, one day in the summer of 1999, that he was leaving the store for good, Colin asked what he planned to do next.
‘I’m going to join the boys in blue,’ Fletcher told him.
Gunn couldn’t believe his ears. He already had some useful contacts in the police but, even if Fletcher never became a detective – as he planned – another lost soul in the force would be extremely beneficial. By filling the vacuum left by Dave Francis’s conviction, the Cartel was taking more risks and it was imperative to stay on top of the game. Another secret source of intelligence would be very welcome. Whether Charlie Fletcher knew it or wanted it, he was about to become a clean skin for the Bestwood Cartel. To refuse would be more than impolite.