I wrote the review below in October 2004, and it was published, under a pseudonym, in issue 6 of Notes From The Borderland. It takes a look at one interpretation of gangland Manchester and comments (I hope) in a way that journalists like Peter Walsh would fear to do.
The Mancunian Way
“Gang War – The Inside Story of the Manchester Gangs” by Peter Walsh (£15.99, Milo)
This is a book with plenty of meat, which makes it all the more curious that it has not had the attention of other real-crime books published in recent years. (1) Walsh covers roughly twenty years of gangland life in Manchester, and along the way throws enough issues forward to satisfy anyone interested in parapolitics, working class politics, or Manchester itself. The insights into the strengths and weaknesses of police strategy in Manchester make the book invaluable, even if Walsh has to be treated with caution on several issues – at least - as I shall discuss below.
Issues covered in Gang War (either in detail or in passing) include the Stalker affair, police relations with the black community, the effect of anti-social crime in our communities and working class opposition to it, inner-city riots, the development of gang culture, the use of police informers, and the application of technology. Always in the background are the social changes that Manchester has experienced from the Thatcher inspired depression of the early 80s, to the gentrification that followed in the wake of “Madchester”. Even The Hacienda, once the most famous night-club in the world, is now a block of yuppie flats.
Dabbling with Dibble
Although Walsh rarely sources significant sections of the book to any named police officers, serving or retired, it is clear that he has received information from all levels within Greater Manchester Police (GMP). Often we are asked to simply believe assertions based solely on “a senior officer”, “police sources” or a “senior detective”. Whilst hardly impartial, sometimes these assertions are genuinely fascinating.
One that is sourced, to Ron Clarke, the author of a drugs strategy for GMP, suggests that the introduction of crack to Manchester was closely linked to the actions of GMP. During Operation Miracle, plain clothes officers were sent to buy crack, a drug that was not known in Manchester at the time, but one that drug dealers started to sell because of the demand created for it – by GMP! Clarke is quoted as saying “They were actually selling heroin but we got them to go and buy crack” p. 109. Walsh concludes
“In terms of arrests and convictions, Miracle had been a success – but had it unwittingly helped to propagate crack cocaine in south Manchester?"
Whilst American authors such as Peter Dale Scott and Gary Webb have broadly established the case that hard drugs were deliberately flooded into US inner-cities by the CIA (2) Walsh is possibly the first author to indicate that the British authorities were responsible for the introduction of crack into Manchester. No wonder Walsh has not been widely reviewed in the mainstream press!
GMP certainly knew how to misread a situation. In 1988, when the words ecstasy and Manchester were already becoming synonymous, they did not make a single arrest for possessing or supplying the drug. In 1989 they made only five arrests, eventually making E a priority only after the media inspired moral panic about rave music and drug culture. (3)
On the door
That Manchester changed significantly in the period covered by this book cannot be questioned. As the city’s night-club scene became world famous, anyone who wanted a slice of the action had to take it. Many did, and even more tried and failed. Perhaps most important of all became the control of night-club door’s – whoever ran the doors in effect ran the club, and whoever was in control of the club had control of not just who sold drugs inside, but who did what inside. I gained a personal insight into this in 1988, when I attended the now infamous Public Enemy gig at the International 2 in Longsight.
Whilst the bouncers on the door would have been more than capable with dealing with the average pub brawler looking for some fisticuffs after 8 pints, they were incapable, or unwilling, to deal with the gang based violence that occurred inside the venue that night. When Public Enemy stopped their gig so a band member could harangue a gang member who had been seen committing a robbery at the back of the hall, it is far to say many in the audience genuinely expected gunfire to break out. It did not, but no one present could have intervened if it had. Just as Manchester had developed a new breed of gang, a new breed of doorman, linked either to the gangs themselves or directly controlled by them, was required.
Anti-fascists will certainly enjoy the suggestion (pages 75-6) that one such doorman, Dessie Noonan played a significant role in ensuring that Manchester was a no-go area for groups such as the British National Party. (4)
Technology is King
The importance of technology, to both sides of the criminal divide, is evident. In Moss Side the police found it particularly difficult to get close to any of the drug gangs, who tended to be younger, and a different colour, to nearly all GMP officers. As many of these gang members had known each other all their lives, and lived in very specific areas, getting in amongst them was not a possibility. In the case of a Longsight gang Walsh refers to, some had not even left school yet. Put simply, where infiltration is either impossible or very difficult the police have little option but to resort to other methods, and that includes relying on technology.
Major police operations in Moss Side such as Operation Corkscrew and Operation China (cops seem to love these daft names!) were therefore dependent on surveillance equipment – the police even posing as squatters (p.100) to install it. Their second method was to buy drugs themselves, going up to dealers personally and purchasing heroin. Again this would be recorded using hidden cameras. In one operation officers used pinhole cameras that could be operated from up to a mile away (p.214)
In Salford local gangs used scanners to monitor police radios, and were able to jam police radio frequencies in Salford after stealing several police radios. (5)
In Chapter nine Walsh concentrates on Salford, and refers to the violence between locals and Greater Manchester Police that reached its peak in the late 80s and early 90s. Walsh makes a half-hearted attempt to address the fact that much of this violence was political in its motivation – the police and authorities were not merely viewed with suspicion in areas like Ordsall – they had no legitimacy there whatsoever. Although Walsh explains how crass police behaviour sometimes was in Salford (attempting to arrest a man who was a pallbearer at a funeral being the worst example) for a man with such evident connections to GMP, Walsh explains very little about the attitudes of the police to local people. Could this be because their views were so negative and so hostile he declines to report them? Given Chief Supt Jim Tunmer was quoted in the Manchester Evening News at the time going as far as to say
“If we don’t stick together and get the scum out of the area anarchy will reign. If they want to take us on and make it a war so be it. I’m not prepared to let them rule the roost” (6)There speaks the voice of community policing!
Walsh also makes the curious assertion that Salford’s “Firm” had a disturbing effect on grassroots democracy in the area, with the Lib Dem and Conservative parties declining to stand candidates in places they considered “unsafe”, and with threats being made to Labour politicians. An easier question to ask may be to consider what politicians – from any of the main parties – ever did for people in areas like Salford, and why, if politicians were such useful servants of the people, they themselves lacked legitimacy? One description of Salford’s politicians rings particularly true:
“They do sod all about the dire housing, poverty and unemployment the area suffers, while they spend millions on expensive yuppy housing and office development in the Salford Quays. The community is treated like cattle by the council, milking them for rent and poll tax and coming out with all the usual crap at election time to get the people to vote for them” (7)
Spooks in Salford?
That MI5 have been used (and still are?) in targeting organised crime cannot be disputed. According to the always briefed Ken Hyder, UK police forces were originally hostile to MI5 involvement on their turf, but following the introduction of planned co-operation by the National Criminal Intelligence Service in 1997, fifty cases saw the police and MI5 work together, whilst the police requested, but were refused co-operation in a further fifty cases. (8)
In a fascinating paragraph Walsh alleges that Salford man Paul Massey was targeted by D7, the branch of MI5 that liases with police and HM Customs to monitor organised crime. Back on cue, an unnamed senior detective is quoted
“D7 are very good, very professional, but we found that they didn’t like the criminals coming back at them. When terrorists realise they are being surveilled, they will try and get away; criminals will come up to your car and have a go. They got very nervous about that. They are from the dark side and are great for distant surveillance from five miles away but they are not used to confrontations” (9)Hmmmm.
Paul Massey was eventually jailed for 14 years in 1999, and there is little doubt that he had been GMP’s public enemy number one for well over a decade. As far back as 1989, Massey was pictured in the centre pages of Class War displaying the surveillance bug he had found in his car (10) According to Walsh, a friend of Massey’s was offered £55,000 to become an informer, whilst his girlfriend was even approached by an “intelligence officer” asking her to turn. Walsh states (p.129)
“The attempt failed, though detectives privately claim that they did develop a key informant who was very close to him”
A Curious Omission
Walsh makes no attempt to speculate as to who this informant could be, or what the outcome of his activities were. Leap forward to Chapter 17 however, and readers are introduced, in passing, to what is described as a “family feud” between Ordsall men Ken and Sean Keating. Ken Keating, to whom the Class War Federation book “Unfinished Business” is dedicated, had fallen out with his son Sean, whom he believed to be a police informer. Those who saw Mr Keating’s robust views about what should happen to grasses, and his son in particular, on a 1996 Channel Four Cutting Edge documentary on feuding families, are unlikely to forget them.
Walsh’s lack of detail on this story is at best curious, at worst downright disingenuous. Both Keating’s were extremely well known figures in Manchester, and a Manchester Evening News report at the time indicated that Sean had already survived two assassination attempts, and a £10,000 contract existed on his life. Neighbours in Bolton were remanding Keating junior be moved for the safety of other residents. Whether or not Sean Keating’s earlier dalliance with Class War (he was a speaker at the 1991 Class War International conference in Shoreditch) was part of an earlier genuine political commitment, or intelligence gathering for the authorities, is a matter for debate. (11)
A Journalistic Intervention
In July 1998 Paul Massey decided to take a film crew with him on a tour of his favourite Manchester night-spots. During the night an exchange of opinion occurred with a group of men from Leeds, and a Leeds man was stabbed. Paul Massey went missing, and GMP began desperate attempts to get hold of the footage that had been filmed. This included getting a court order against the BBC at the Old Bailey. When the police did eventually get hold of the footage, it had been altered. Notes from the Borderland may occasionally give readers the impression that all journalists are utterly supine and craven in their attitude towards the police, but we do have to acknowledge that in this instance the journalists concerned acted to protect the integrity of their film – to the extent that four members of the film crew from a company called Ambey Valley Productions were charged by GMP with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice (they were later acquitted)
Paul Massey’s trial is certainly one worthy of further analysis – journalists were vetted and given special passes under the Official Secrets Act, the courtroom door was locked throughout proceedings, and armed police ringed the court. Despite this the case was followed by few national newspapers, in detail by none and the documentary about Massey for the BBC’s Modern Times series, has never been screened.
Manchester – So much to answer for?
A possible explanation for the amount of gossip Walsh has received from GMP sources is the remarkable ability of GMP to be out of step with both the national media and national (read London) agenda’s in policing. When the BBC’s Donal Macintyre was sent into the world of football hooliganism by the Metropolitan Police’s Football Intelligence Unit, it was GMP who interfered with Macintyre’s investigation, provoking Macintyre to comment “there is a trust by-pass here”. (12) It is perhaps no surprise that when the BBC looked to infiltrate a journalist into a police force to investigate racism, they ignored Britain’s largest force, the Metropolitan, despite its long history of racism, and instead chose GMP.
The GMP’s comical dispute with the BBC over the proposed Paul Massey documentary means there have been (at least) three serious disputes between the Beeb and GMP in five years. With few if any national journalists to spin to, GMP officers may well be happy to spin through roving reporters and authors like Walsh.
Fools rush in
The issues raised by Gang War have been under-discussed, something this article seeks to address. A detailed knowledge of Gang War was certainly displayed by ex-BNP member Peter Rushton, in the Spring 2004 issue of Mark Cotterill’s “Heritage and Destiny" magazine. In what purports to be a critical review of “No Retreat – The Secret War between Britain’s Anti-fascists and the far right” by Mancunians Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey, Rushton, using the pseudonym Rushmore, rambles at length about alleged links between the former Anti-Fascist Action group in the city, and criminal figures. Whilst some of his narrative is clearly lifted from Walsh’s book (which Rushton fails to mention!) it cannot be considered impossible that Rushton himself has received background information directly from police sources. This is after all a man with “Searchlight spook” written all over him – something even the BNP eventually realised – writing in a magazine whose publisher is also tainted with suspicion. (13)
Gang War has its faults. Walsh adopts an uncritical attitude towards his police sources, and there is no suggestion that he has attempted to even approach figures – such as Paul Massey or Ken Keating – who may have given him an alternative viewpoint. The book does however provide a valuable insight into the changing social history of Manchester, and an indication of the successes – and failures – of certain police methods. Whether or not other British police forces used taxpayers money to encourage drug dealers to switch to selling crack is an issue that deserves real investigation. We somewhat doubt that the mainstream will be investigating that story however.
Gang War gives us an all too brief insight into the relations between police forces and the security services, and further points to an interesting hostility between Britain’s biggest regional police force and the BBC.
Recommended, but with reservations.
31 October 2004
1. Reviews have been few and far between, although a puff piece in the Manchester Evening News 31/7/03 was to be expected (Walsh is a former MEN sub-editor)
2. See for example “Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America” by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, or “Dark Alliance, The CIA, the Contras and the crack cocaine explosion” by Gary Webb. Closer to home, the fear that the British state would swamp republican areas of Ireland with hard drugs has often been used as an explanation for the IRAs traditionally harsh treatment of drug dealers.
3. 16 year old Claire Leighton died on 10 July 1989, after taking ecstasy at the Hacienda the night before. The media spotlight on the drug, and its users, became intense.
4. An insight into the tragically defunct Manchester branch of Anti-Fascist Action, and their approach to the BNP can be seen in issue one of their Manchester United football fanzine Red Attitude, pages 23-24.
5. See for example Class War issues 37 (1989) and 51 (1991) and the suggestion Paul Massey kept both a bug detector and a scanner in his home, p.129, “Gang War”.
6. Class War issue 52, 1992.
7. Quote reproduced in the article “Its War!” – Class War, issue 38, 1990.
8. Ken Hyder “Police lean on MI5 to help beat crime”, Evening Standard, 9/2/99.
9. “Gang War” page 129.
10. Class War, issue 37, 1989.
11. On Sean Keating see Neal Keeling’s article in Manchester Evening News 11/10/96 or www.thisislancashire.co.uk/lancashire/archive/1996/10/11/NEWS1VQ.html
12. On Donal Macintyre’s dispute with GMP, see pages 159 and 195-196 of the comic “Macintyre – One Man Four Lives Undercover” (BBC, 1999)
13. Mark Cotterill’s bizarre trajectory on the British far-right over the past decade, plus the unexplained collapse of his American Friends of the BNP project, are both worthy of further study.