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 who I have had the honour to work with. Nevertheless, it is exactly that position which gives me some 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 an organised crime group – parked on its own doorstep – to flourish. 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.
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.
ONE of the UK’s most powerful narco-traffickers will finally face the courtroom next year following his arrest in Spain almost two years ago.
Nottingham born Robert Dawes, 45, is charged with organising a 1.3 tonnes shipment of cocaine from Venezuela and seized in suitcases from a flight which touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport Roissy, Paris in September 2013, according to French prosecutors.
More details have also emerged about the case against the British crime lord from the French prosecutor’s indictment, including Dawes’ links to two British men arrested in Paris and to a wing of the Italian Camorra mafia.
According to French investigators, the operation against Dawes began on 8 July 2013 when information was received that a large consignment of cocaine was going to be sent from Venezuela to France via a passenger flight. The information stated that a British organised crime group was behind the shipment.
More information came through to French investigators enabling them to tag Roissy airport about 20 miles from the centre of Paris as the destination point. On September 11 the shipment arrived in 31 suitcases belonging to “ghost” passengers. Having intercepted the shipment by stealth, French investigators then placed undercover officers via an informant into the baggage handling facility at Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
On September 16 2013 the undercover baggage handler’s phone rang. The voice was a man speaking in English calling himself “Marcus”. A meeting was arranged for that evening in Paris. Location? Under the Eiffel Tower. “Marcus”, the evidence will say turned out to be a 34-year-old Nottinghamshire born man called Nathan Wheat.
Nathan Wheat born in Mansfield in 1983 was a known associate of Robert Dawes who, like his boss, lived on Spain’s Mijas Costa. Records showed he had also visited Venezuela in April 2013. Investigators believe this would have been to oversee the logistics of the Caracas to Paris transport operation on behalf of Robert Dawes. Several Venezuelan police officers with alleged links to the Venezuelan outfit Cartel de Los Soles and a Caracas airport remit would later be arrested. At the Eiffel Tower meet, “Marcus” handed a Dutch-sourced Blackberry encrypted with PGP technology to the undercover baggage handler “Sergio” and told him this was to be the only form of communication to be used from there on. Similar Dutch-sourced Blackberry mobiles with PGP encryption would later be discovered when Guardia Civil raided Robert Dawes palatial villa
in Benalmadena in November 2015. In court cases already dealt with, associates of Dawes were found to be in control of a mobile phone business registered at Companies House in the UK, selling encrypted sim cards with Blackberry phones at €2,000 a piece with branches all over the world. There was little legitimate business done by the mobile phone company. In reality, it was a cover for an encrypted network of communications designed to thwart all eavesdropping attempts by law enforcement agencies. One company director was jailed for 10 years in Portugal after being caught with a 167 kilo shipment of cocaine linked to Dawes. Another director, overseeing a cocaine shipment that went missing, was shot dead in Antwerp in 2012 leading to a wild west of tit for tat shootings in Netherlands and abroad which claimed upwards of 15 lives. Some of the victims were mistaken innocents and others were simply girlfriends or relatives of targets.
Oblivious the load had already been intercepted, Wheat then organised a meeting with “Sergio” at the Cafe Kleber in Paris. There Wheat gave the undercover baggage handler further instructions about where the shipment would be moved to and how it was to be split into four consignments. One split was just over 300 kilos which would go to representatives of the Camorra mafia gang from Naples. The Camorra shipment was allowed to travel out of the airport in a truck driven by an Italian before being stopped at the German border apparently on its way via Germany to a rendezvous in a Camorra held part of Italy. Two members of the Amato-Pagano clan linked to the Camorra, Vincenzo Aprea and Carmine Russo, both 49 years old, who had been dealing with Nathan Wheat were arrested and have been charged along with the lorry driver. Aprea is believed to be the Camorra clan’s representative in Spain.
The French authorities moved in on Nathan Wheat and his 30-year-old Nottingham colleague Kane Price. They were arrested while out shopping on the Champs Elysees. Price, who gave his occupation as a used car salesman, was bailed through lack of evidence, but after returning to the UK was then arrested handling a large amount of MDMA on behalf of a cell working for Robert Dawes. He was sentenced to three and half years following a court case at Stafford Crown Court in 2016. Wheat remains in custody in France.
Meanwhile, the Guardia Civil upped its monitoring of Dawes. Unable to break the encryption communications he was employing they resorted to tried and tested tactics used pursuing ETA terrorists. Surveillance of Dawes and his associates led investigators to a meeting at the five star Villa Magna hotel in Madrid on September 23, 2014. The meeting was between Dawes, a Columbian from the Medellin cartel and a Spanish/English interpreter. The Guardia Civil legally wired into the hotel’s CCTV and audio system to pick up the conversation and film the meeting. During the chat, Dawes revealed he could get narcotics shipments through most ports and airports in Europe through corrupt contacts. He mentioned contacts in ports such as Algeciras and Valencia in Spain, using ships from Venezuela and from Santos, Brazil, cargo planes in the Netherlands, ships from Morocco to Spain, containers in Antwerp, and shipments by commercial plane in suitcases through airports such as Brussels. Only the airport at Barajas, Madrid was impenetrable, he told the Columbians. His price was 30 per cent commission on the value of anything that went through the transport lines he controlled air, sea or land. Those networks would inevitably reveal a layer of corrupt officials within the import/export chain and law enforcement, whose loyalty Dawes had bought.
On tape Dawes was also caught boasting about the 1.3 tonnes of cocaine Paris shipment “the one that was in the news using the cases…that was mine”, he said. He appeared to be trying to convince the Medellin drug boss of his credentials. He was also caught telling the Columbian that the only way he would communicate with the Columbians would be via a Blackberry PGP encrypted mobile which he would supply to whoever he dealt with.
Dawes’ legal team, led by the so called “Jihadist’s Lawyer” Xavier Nogueras, are desperately trying to prevent this evidence from being included in the French court case, claiming that the material was illegally obtained. Dawes’ legal team is also interested in the use of informants in the case and in particular a reference in the case file to an infamous French drug smuggler Sofiane Hambli.
After the raid on Dawes’ Benalmadena villa on November 12 2015, the scale of his dealings has also become clearer. Documentation seized by Spain’s Guardia Civil investigators shows that the Briton had banking and telephone contacts spanning five continents in more than 50 countries including significant contacts in Afghanistan, UK, Malta, Syria, Italy, France, Netherlands, Nigeria, Finland, Somalia, Colombia, Pakistan, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and China.
Via his legal team, Dawes – currently being held at Fresnes prison near Paris – is expected to continue to attempt to water down the evidence which mounts against him and use delaying tactics in his case.
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.”