Something for the weekend

I confess I do not come to this post as a passive observer. When reviewing Michael Gillard’s new book Legacy I should declare an interest and point out that the author is a friend and colleague whom I have had the honour to work with. Nevertheless, it is exactly that position which gives me the authority to declare how much soul-searching Michael went through to get this mighty tome to publication; not least in terms of his own safety. The Osman warnings he has received are a testament to this.

Legacy is not just a stunning tale. It is also a forensic analysis of how the inertia of the UK’s most powerful police force coupled with a failure to recognise its own corrupt elements, led to an organised crime group parked on its own doorstep, flourishing. In time internal Metropolitan Police reports would document that David Hunt, a Canning Town gangster, had become “too big” for them to take down.

It was not always this way. Through the narrative, we meet a police officer and his dedicated team who did their best to bring David Hunt and his cohorts to book. Unfortunately for DCI David McKelvey, or “Mac” as he is known, he was not just battling the gangsters but his own employers. We learn that, while investigating and successfully collecting prima facie evidence of Hunt’s crimes, Mac is subjected to the kind of scrutiny and pressure from the Met’s Professional Standards Unit – the Ghost Squad – usually reserved for bent coppers. The result was McKelvey retired almost a mentally broken soul, though he has now pieced his life back together. The cases lined up against David Hunt were effectively “collapsed”. Hunt’s power and wealth grew and he remains a free man to this day.

What changed the landscape was Michael Gillard’s journalism for the Sunday Times. Through a series of stories, he spoke out for the victims of David Hunt’s crimes, exposing the reality of Hunt’s criminal endeavours to the public and eventually the full glare of a courtroom. As Michael’s articles began to damage David Hunt’s business interests the gangster became angrier culminating in him launching a libel action against The Sunday Times. It did not end well for Hunt resulting in the presiding judge declaring that Hunt was indeed head of an organised crime group.

It was after the libel action that my path crossed Michael’s when I wrote a story for The Independent revealing a £1 million loan which West Ham United owner David Sullivan had given to David Hunt at the end of the court case. There followed collaborations on a clutch of stories regarding the finances of Hunt and the stench of corruption which surrounded the man.

West Ham United co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan give the Hammer salute flanked to the right by crime boss David Hunt. Sullivan later lent the crime boss £1 million.

However, Legacy goes much further than detailing the rise of an organised crime boss. Gillard digs deep into the backdrop – the battle for the spoils of land being developed for the London Olympics and a factual nod to The Long Good Friday scripted by Barrie Keeffe, who gives Legacy his own seal of approval. Legacy, says Keeffe, “adds credence to the old adage that truth can be stranger than fiction”. The chapters on the stench of corruption emanating from the local authorities dealing with the London games are particularly revealing.

Legacy is an important book, which like one of Michael Gillard’s previous publications The Untouchables, sets a high bar for investigative journalism. More importantly, we should reflect that journalists carrying out this kind of work are facing threat levels never seen before in the UK. We don’t do this for the money for sure, the recompense for putting ourselves in the firing line is paltry. We do this work because we feel passionate about exposing the wrongs we encounter and to give a voice to those who otherwise would not have not been heard. Long may that continue. So a book well worth investing a few pounds in. But don’t take my word for it, grab a copy of Legacy this weekend and see for yourselves.

The Premier League Football Club owners and a £1 million loan to a crime lord

 

West Ham United co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan give the Hammer salute flanked to the right by crime boss David Hunt

West Ham United co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan give the Hammers salute flanked to the right by crime boss David Hunt

The wealthy co-owner of a Premier League football club made a £1m loan to a company controlled by David Hunt – three months after a High Court judge named Mr Hunt as the head of an organised crime network.

A company owned by David Sullivan, the multi-millionaire boss of West Ham United, lent the money to the East End businessman’s property company soon after Mr Justice Simon concluded that Mr Hunt led a gang involved in fraud, money-laundering and “extreme violence”.

The loan was secured against several of Mr Hunt’s properties, including a golf club in Essex and a restaurant once owned by the actor Sir Sean Connery and the late West Ham captain Bobby Moore, who led England to World Cup glory in 1966.

Mr Sullivan’s company, GC CO NO 102 Limited, made the loan to Mr Hunt’s company in October last year. In January, Mr Sullivan, a former pornography tycoon listed as Britain’s 224th richest man with assets worth £400m, placed this company into voluntary liquidation and declared liabilities of just £90, suggesting the loan to Mr Hunt had been quickly repaid.

David Hunt – nicknamed “Long Fella” – was officially exposed last summer in a judgment by Mr Justice Simon after the crime boss brought an unsuccessful libel action against The Sunday Times.

A catalogue of damning claims emerged during the trial, including allegations that Scotland Yard viewed Mr Hunt’s gang, which had operated with impunity for more than 20 years, as “too big” and “too dangerous” to take on. During a covert operation codenamed Blackjack, the Metropolitan Police placed bugging equipment in a car showroom, which picked up an attack by Mr Hunt in which he had slashed the face of a man named Paul Cavanagh, who had upset an associate.

Mr Hunt was arrested and charged with the attack. But the prosecution dropped the case after Mr Cavanagh withdrew his statement to police. A High Court judge would later find that Mr Hunt had intimidated him into not giving evidence for the prosecution. Mr Justice Simon also concluded that Mr Hunt had attacked and threatened to kill Billy Allen, a property developer, in 2006. “It was the sort of power and authority that might be expected from the head of a criminal network,” said the judge, who also ruled that Mr Hunt had engaged in money-laundering.

Three months after the libel trial had concluded, Mr Sullivan’s finance company made the £1m loan to Mr Hunt’s company, Hunt’s UK Properties. The West Ham co-chairman’s loan was secured against several properties including Woolston Manor Golf Club in Chigwell, Essex. This luxurious setting has twice come to the attention of investigators in unconnected matters. In 2006, Metropolitan Police officers raided the club and found cases of Bollinger champagne which had recently been stolen from a lorry. In 2008, Peter Pomfrett, a director at the same club, was jailed for 10 years over his role in a £37.5m fraud.

Two months after Mr Sullivan’s company made the loan to Mr Hunt’s firm, our sister newspaper The Independent revealed a secret Metropolitan Police report – codenamed Operation Tiberius and dated 2002 – which concluded the crime-lord’s gang had been helped to evade justice by a network of corrupt serving and former police officers.

“The Hunt syndicate has developed an extensive criminal empire which has so far evaded significant penetration from law enforcement,” said the Operation Tiberius report. “The syndicate has achieved this invulnerability through a mixture of utilising corrupt police contacts and the intimidation of witnesses brave enough to give evidence against them.” It added: “The Hunt syndicate is one of the most violent groups in north-east London and has been responsible for a series of vicious assaults against debtors and rivals. Their main sphere of influence is drug importation and protection.”

The report by the Met’s anti-corruption team names four Met detectives “associated” with the syndicate, one of whom is high-profile and has given evidence to Parliament. Operation Tiberius reported that corrupt officers betrayed the Met by telling the Hunt syndicate about tracking devices placed on its vehicles, leaking information about police inquiries and carrying out checks on police intelligence databases. Scotland Yard refuses to comment on Operation Tiberius.

In the same month that The Independent reported details of Operation Tiberius, Mr Sullivan placed GC CO NO 102 Limited into voluntary liquidation.

The 65-year-old made his fortune in pornography magazines and sex shops during the 1970s. In 1986, he founded the Sunday Sport newspaper, offering fanciful stories with headlines such as “World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon”. Mr Sullivan moved into sport with the acquisition of Birmingham Football Club in 1993, appointing Karren Brady – star of The Apprentice, who is close to David Cameron and George Osborne – as managing director. He sold up in 2007 and bought West Ham in 2010.

Mr Sullivan’s club has secured Premier League survival this season under manager Sam Allardyce. In two years’ time, West Ham will move into the Olympic stadium in Stratford, east London, which was built for the 2012 Olympic Games using £500m of taxpayers’ money.

A spokesman for Mr Sullivan said: “GC CO NO 102 Limited is a finance company, it makes loans to numerous people and companies. This was a normal commercial loan at a normal commercial rate.”

A spokesperson for Mr Hunt said: “My client runs a perfectly legitimate property company which, like most property companies, borrows money from time to time from commercial lenders. He has no further comment to make about this matter.”