In recent years, Nottingham gained a national reputation for gun crime and turf battles between rival gangs. But the origins of gang crime in the city date back several decades. In the final abridged extract from his new book Hoods, CARL FELLSTROM traces the roots of Nottingham’s gangs back to the 1950s
AFTER the Second World War, many immigrants saw in Britain a chance to throw off the shackles of the old world and embrace a new life in a new country.
Black-on-black shootings rose sharply at the turn of the century
With Britain ill-prepared for integration, tension between the white working-class and the new immigrants from the Caribbean led to an outbreak of sustained violence in the St Ann‘s area in August 1958.
Over two weekends, as many as 4,000 men took part in street battles around the Wells Road and Robin Hood Chase. Following the riots, public housing policy changed and many immigrants were shepherded into Hyson Green, St Ann’s and The Meadows.
Into this cauldron of racism and lack of opportunity dropped Vincent and Wellesley Robinson when they arrived in Nottingham in the early 1960s.
Their family would go on to become infamous in the city.
Vincent – who became known as PG Man – was around 20, while Wellesley – known as Douggie Man – was a couple of years older. Before long, any aspirations they held were dashed when it became apparent just how difficult it was to get a steady job if you were black.
PG Man and Douggie Man were soon running regular blues nights at their homes in Nottingham and, with cannabis readily available, it was a safe bet that they would be raided by police sooner or later.
PG Man, living near what would become the St Ann’s estate, had already spent three months in prison in the early 1960s after being caught with a small amount of cannabis. Douggie Man, who lived nearby in Alfred Street North, had also been busted for a small amount of cannabis in August 1966.
But things started to get much worse: PG Man began working for the police. They had told him that he would be able to run his shebeen, sell cannabis and stay out of prison if he started informing on friends and family.
In the end, even PG’s brother Douggie Man was busted as a result. He faced a three-year prison sentence and it became apparent to everyone that PG Man was working for the police.
By now he had acquired another nickname: ‘Judas’.
Yet he was sick with remorse that he had sold his own brother down the river to save his own skin and vowed to get his revenge on the police.
He met News of the World journalist, Simon Regan, who was sure he could expose what had been going on and hurt the police officers on PG Man’s back without resorting to violence.
By the summer of 1969, Regan had a wealth of covert tapes which he believed were enough to show that certain police officers had acted corruptly by asking PG Man to plant drugs on his friends.
In August 1969, the country’s biggest-selling newspaper ran the story under the headline ‘Police Plot to Plant Drugs’.
As a result, three officers were charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
The officers went on trial at Nottingham Crown Court in October 1970 but the judge ruled the tapes inadmissible.
The trial was abandoned after jurors told the judge they were struggling to understand the witnesses’ Jamaican accents, describing those taking the stand as “rubbishy”.
All the police officers were cleared. Following the trial, many younger members of the community were more convinced than ever that the way to live their lives was outside the law.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, many were caught up in crime. The young rude boys of the second generation were of a grittier character than their fathers. Some were carrying knives and even guns, robbing people and trafficking prostitutes.
And then crack cocaine burst into the ghetto. By 1989, police had begun to see the symptoms of this new cocaine derivative on the streets of Radford, St Ann’s and The Meadows.
Even before crack began to appear, Jamaican criminals on the run would regularly lie low in Nottingham with a distant relative or friend.
But now with the growth of crack cocaine use, the violent gangsters known as Yardies were appearing on the streets. They hung around the Black and White Café in Radford Road and the Marcus Garvey Centre, in Lenton Boulevard, and swaggered around in heavy gold selling rocks down at a cavernous late-night drinking hole in Ilkeston Road, the Tally Ho (later called the Lenton, then the Drum).
The first evidence of the wave of mayhem that crack would bring came in a quiet street in Wollaton on October 11, 1991.
Ian Bedward, a 28-year-old Yardie, had succumbed to the drug and the paranoia it brought on made for a tempestuous relationship with partner Sophie Robinson, Douggie Man’s granddaughter, with whom he had three children.
Believing Sophie was seeing other men, Ian wrote rambling letters that he hoped would make some sense of his turbulent life.
By the next day he could see only one way out: he lined up his three children, Lorne, aged four, Loren, three, and Lorene, two, and shot them through the head as they lay on the sofa before killing himself.
Meanwhile, younger members of the community in St Ann’s, now known in ghetto terms as the Stanz, formed a gang and called themselves the Playboy Posse.
In the early 1990s they got into a war with the Meadows Posse, who would become known later as the Waterfront Gang. It was the beginning of the black-on-black gang violence that was to blight the city intermittently over the next 15 years.
No one knows quite how it all started, but by the early 1990s, gang life within St Ann’s and The Meadows estates was flourishing.
In late 1999, the number of shootings taking place in the city began to rise dramatically.
By November 2001, Operation Real Estate, which saw armed police patrolling the streets, had made 400 arrests and recovered more than 100 firearms. Forty-seven Jamaican nationals were among those arrested.
But gun crime overall continued to escalate and police decided a new approach was needed.
In July 2002 they set up Operation Stealth to stamp out the black-on-black shootings by arresting offenders with firearms before they committed serious crimes.
But the murders and shooting incidents were still taking place.
Two murders after the launch of Operation Stealth both had the fingerprints of Yardie gunmen on them.
On November 9, 2002, 33-year-old Theresa Jacobs, a crack cocaine dealer, was shot in the back of the head outside the Drum nightclub, off Ilkeston Road.
Jamaican national Aston Bola faced trial over her murder but the case collapsed when the CPS offered no evidence.
Almost a year later on November 7, 2003, 24-year-old father-of-two Omar Watson walked into his local barber shop to have his hair cut, but as he sat in his chair a gunman walked in and shot him dead.
Two Jamaicans were subsequently cleared of his murder.
Copyright Carl Fellstrom ©