Glasgow gangsters earn their stripes the hard way – usually a long facial slash from a sharp-bladed instrument. But they really hit the big time when a nickname is bestowed on them.
Iceman. Blink. The Birdman. Cyclops. And these are just the living. Gerbil, Kevin Carroll, went before, in the usual manner, a hail of bullets, although The Licensee, Tam McGraw, managed to beat the traditional exit by way of a heart seizure.
Glasgow is a small place in a tiny country so all the major figures know each other, and not just by repute. They have often been friends, before turning rivals, married into or slept with a member of a well-known crime family, shot or been shot at, stabbed or chibbed by one of them. It can certainly get confusing, as well as frightening.
Ian ‘Blink’ McDonald is a well-known face, disfigured of course, who has written a book, with assistance naturally. He was the partner of Annette Daniel, a sister of the notorious clan whose roots are in Possil, the family who came to fortune, as ever, through drugs and who were involved in a decades-long feud with the Lyons family which simmers on. Annette has her own expertise, shoplifting – Harrods was probably the pinnacle of her endeavours – but that’s for further on. McDonald’s moniker came about because he was said to be able to take your face off in the blink of an eye.
Blink is, or was, an armed robber and gangland enforcer, but he isn’t without a sense of humour. In late summer last year he got into a barney on a Spanish holiday flight with another man who called him a fanny. The flight was then delayed in the predictable ruckus, Blink and the other guy were taken off, and the hardman found himself in the local nick. When he was cautioned and charged he told officers, “I thought I would be in Fuerteventura, instead I’m in a cell in Greenock and I don’t even have a sea view.”
Jamie ‘The Iceman’ Stevenson isn’t noted for the ready quip and presumably isn’t so-called because he used to have a van and a pokey-hat round. He was deeply embedded with the powerful McGovern family from Springburn, the McGovernment as they were known locally. He was the best friend of Tony, at 35 the eldest of five brothers, who was shot dead in 2000. Tony wore a heavy bullet-proof vest provided by The Licensee, but it didn’t save him. Five close range shots outside the New Morven bar in Balornock did for him. In the aftermath the remaining family refused to provide a picture of Tony to the police, this no doubt being one of the unwritten gangster rules.
It was widely believed that Tony had fallen out with a business partner in the drugs business. The Iceman was arrested for the killing but the case was dropped through lack of evidence. This is not novel in Glasgow. In 2007 Stevenson went down for 12 years in a record sentence for money laundering. Police from the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency bugged his home and the information they heard led to them tracing bags of cash with nearly £600,000 inside, 55 luxury watches worth £307,000 as well as evidence of an attempt to set up the taxi firm, doubtless for further laundering. The Iceman was freed at the end of 2013 after serving seven years of the sentence.
During the 1990s the McGovernment had mushroomed spectacularly from their Glasgow heartland to build a huge drugs empire from their humble beginnings of extortion, shoplifting and petty violence. The family flourished despite Paul serving a murder sentence and Tommy, although he walked free from a murder trial, being jailed for four years for drugs and firearms offences. Another brother Jamie was shot in the face while drinking in a local pub, leaving him badly scarred.
Should you meet up with a McGovern you are advised to duck after shaking hands.
The rise of the clan was, in large part, through the efforts of Russell Stirton, who married McGovern sister Jacqueline. And while there is clearly no honour among the thieves, far less killers, the murder of Tony allowed his brother-in-law, Stirton to move in on the empire. It was alleged he took over the McGovern protection racket, although witnesses who had paid and made statements to prosecutors suddenly withdrew them, causing the case against Stirton and his associate, Alexander Anderson (now dead) to collapse. It claimed he laundered his drugs money through his filling station on Springburn Road and, as a side benefit, provided the cheapest petrol in Britain.
But after that failure the Crown had another method of nailing him, the Proceeds of Crime Act which allows authorities to seize cash and assets by proving – on the less onerous balance of probability – they were derived from crime. Assets and cash worth £5.6million were seized.
After a lengthy delay the case was finally heard over 130 days before Lady Stacey in the Court of Session in May 2009 and the two ‘convicted’, although the verdict does not involve a criminal record. In a judgement delivered later her ladyship said Stirton had a criminal empire based on fraud, drugs, a protection racket and money laundering through car sales and the petrol station. Three houses – including Stirton’s, The Limes, in Mugdock – were seized along other assets totalling £922,000. Bizarrely Stirton’s legal costs of over £250,000 were paid for by legal aid.
But it did not end there. Stirton continues to fight the judgement and last October was awarded £932,273 in legal aid, probably more than the worth the seized assets, to carry on the fight.
There are parallels with The Iceman. He was hit with a confiscation order for almost £747,000 in October 2008 after being jailed for laundering £1million of drug cash. His gang had a multi-million-pound turnover when he was targeted by the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency’s investigation, Operation Folklore. Over four years the trail, which wove through Spain, Portugal and Holland, resulted in the arrest of 71 people and the seizure of more than 12 tons of illegal drugs, street worth £61million.
Last February he still owed £136,000 and was hauled back to court, which heard his house in East Kibride was on the point of being sold to clear the debt. He was accompanied by Stephen Jamieson, jailed for eight years in 2009 as part of a Paisley drugs gang. He was stung in Operation Lockdown, which involved the bugging of houses and Jamieson’s top-of-the-range BMW Drugs and drug-related materials with a street value of £8.8m were recovered and £445,000 in cash. Cops also seized a cocaine press, two MAC 10 machine guns, three sawn-off shotguns, four shotguns, 11 rifles, eight handguns and 3,400 rounds of ammunition.
A confiscation order also hit Blink McDonald’s former bidie-in Annette Daniel, sister of crime boss Jamie and the murdered Tony. She and Jean McGovern, from the other notorious north Glasgow crime family, led a huge shoplifting operation with a particular fondness for Harrods. In 2012 they got away with more than £24,000 of luxury dresses. Other stores in Knightsbridge were also hit. They were said to have hundreds working for them across Europe in a multi-million empire.
Daniel, who has more than 20 convictions for nicking from posh shops, was given an 18 month sentence for a Harrods raid. In 2014 she was brought from prison and ordered to repay £25,000. At an earlier hearing she has screamed at the sheriff, “This is against my human rights, so it is.”
The last words belong, fittingly, to the Crown. In summing up the Harrods case Judge Simon Oliver noted that the serial shoplifter had stolen from shops across the UK. Adding, tongue touching cheek, “At least you got to see the world if nothing else by your offending.”
- Part I Arthur Thompson
- Part II Paul Ferris
- Part III Tam McGraw
- The McGovernment
- Part IV The Lyons v the Daniels
- Part VI Stewart Boyd
- Part VII Walter Norval
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