Capturing the Mob: a rare insight into Britain’s criminal underworld

Paul Ferris spent 25 years as one of the most feared gangsters in Britain
Paul Ferris spent 25 years as one of the most feared gangsters in Britain
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Some of Glasgow’s most feared and notorious gangsters are featured in a remarkable new book, writes Jennifer O’Mahony

‘I CERTAINLY don’t envy the boys who are running around the streets today. They have no morals and no respect; they fill their minds and bodies with chemicals and fly around the streets aimlessly until some other guy shoots them down, spilling their brains all over the pavement.” Like many older men, Walter Norval is highly critical of today’s youth. Unlike most of his peers, however, Norval also happens to have been Glasgow’s first criminal Godfather, involved in robberies and protection rackets throughout the 1940s and 50s.

Images of Norval strolling through the Red Road area of his city, pausing at a nearby cemetery, or simply getting a haircut fill the first few pages of Faces, a remarkable new book of photography on gang culture by Brian Anderson and Bernard O’Mahoney.

Anderson and O’Mahoney start with the elder statesmen of the Glasgow scene and move through the main players of more than 70 years of crime, taking in the Arthur Thompson years, the notorious Ferris family, and the Glasgow ice-cream wars.

The moment in 1983 when six members of the Doyle family were killed in a deliberately set fire is here in the face of Gary Moore, who is said to have confessed to the crime before he died last year, despite having been cleared by Glasgow High Court. The turf wars that followed in the 1990s are remembered in an image of a young girl crying in front of smoking tower blocks, and Faces takes us right up to today, to shots of killers and hard men who are still alive.

Anderson and O’Mahoney present a collection of more than 300 photographs of the most violent and feared men in Britain, but pictured here at leisure: boxing, drinking with friends, and posing in their homes and neighbourhoods. The love of drama and self-mythologising of Glasgow’s gangsters is clearly key to their involvement. Suits and ties, trilby hats, and shirtless posing show that despite the need to keep a low profile, many gangsters buy into the dangerous glamour that criminality offers.

The image of Billy Lobban praying beneath a photo of the world’s most famous fictional gangster, Vito Corleone, reflects a love of icons, and an aspiration for iconic status himself. In the book’s foreword, Harry Benson, an internationally renowned Glaswegian photographer, notes wryly that gangsters “like the majority of the population, don’t wish to pass this way unnoticed.”

GANGSTERS FEATURED...

GARY MOORE: A month before his death in 2010, Moore allegedly confessed to starting a fire in 1983 that killed six members of the Doyle family in Ruchazie, Glasgow, part of the infamous Ice Cream Wars. He had been acquitted by a High Court of the crime. In 1992, he was accused of murdering sex worker Diane McInally, but all charges were dropped. He was convicted, however, of stabbing to death James Boyle, son of gangster-turned-artist Jimmy Boyle. Last year gangster Sammy Ralston asked council authorities to rehouse him from Moore’s old flat because he was being haunted by the gangster.

PAUL FERRIS: Bernard O’Mahoney says of Ferris in Faces: “Paul Ferris has been accused of many things in his life, some true, some not. What’s not in dispute is that he spent 25 years as one of Britain’s most feared gangsters.” Ferris was bullied as a child in the 1970s, then spent his teenage years getting retribution against his tormentors. He became involved in the Arthur Thompson family crime outfit, and set up his own business interests as a gun-runner and drug dealer. Robert Carlyle is to star as Ferris in The Ferris Conspiracy, based on the gangster’s book of the same name.

BILLY LOBBAN: Lobban was implicated in the murders of Bobby Glover and Joe Hanlon, who were waiting to stand trial for the murder of Arthur “Fat Boy” Thompson, son of Arthur Thompson Snr, who was the Godfather of organised crime in Glasgow for over 30 years. Lobban was a small-time crook who had asked Glover for money the night before Fat Boy’s funeral, and who may have been the last to see Glover alive. Glover and Hanlon were found murdered in a car on the route of Fat Boy’s funeral. Lobban is pictured in a pose of prayer below the original Godfather, Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando in the 1972 film.

WALTER NORVAL: The original Glasgow Godfather, Walter Norval led armed robberies and protection rackets in the 1940s and 1950s. In Faces, Norval recalls: “Back then we committed robberies to put food in the mouths of our families, these days heroin addicts take the food out of their families’ mouths to feed their filthy habits.” Norval’s men used to listen in to police radio frequencies before carrying out a job and were named by the media as the XYY gang as this was a code used by police when referring to armed robberies in progress.

TC CAMPBELL: Campbell was jailed for life along with Joe Steele in the mid-1980s for involvement in the house fire that killed six members of the Doyle family. It was alleged the pair had firebombed the Doyles’ Glasgow home in a bid to gain control of the city’s lucrative ice cream runs, which were a cover for the distribution of drugs and money laundering. Campbell, who always maintained his innocence, said on his release: “I’m almost 50 and I’ve spent more than half my life in prison. I have children and other people to consider, children who come first, even before my own life.”

TAM McGRAW: McGraw, who died of a heart attack in 2007, ruled a £30 million empire built on fear and violence. When cannabis started to flood into Scotland from the late 1980s onwards, suspicion centred on McGraw, leader of the infamous Barlanark Team. After a two-year surveillance operation, police discovered the drug had been hidden in buses taking poor Glasgow families on free holidays abroad. McGraw was found not proven of drug smuggling in 1998 and not proven of the attempted murder of a policeman 20 years earlier. McGraw suffered multiple stab wounds in 2002 when he was attacked in his own home.

FRANKIE FRASER AND BILLY THOMPSON: Fraser grew up in South London and was pickpocketing with his sister before he reached the age of ten. In the 1960s he was linked to the Richardson gang, rivals to the Kray twins. He has 26 convictions and has spent 42 years in jail. He now gives gangland tours in London. Billy Thompson is the son of gangster Arthur Thompson senior, with whom Fraser was a good friend. Billy was the victim of an attempted murder in 2000, stabbed by three men. He was given 18 months on appeal for possession of a harpoon gun.

• Faces: A Photographic Journey Through The Underworld by Brian Anderson and Bernard O’Mahoney is published by True Crime Publishing, priced £50