Goodbye to Glasgow's Godfather

"NO ONE really thought it would end like this. Everyone expected a bullet, a knife or a bat. For him to go the way he did seems a bit of a cop-out."

The pensioner sipping his pint of 80/ at the bar knew he was right.

For three decades, the name Tam "the Licensee" McGraw has been inexorably linked with Glasgow and its underworld.

This week, Glasgow is expected to witness its last truly great underworld funeral. No announcement has been made about where or when it will be but expectation of thousands lining the streets is high.

Strathclyde Police are remaining tight-lipped about their former number one adversary. A force spokesman denied knowing anything about the funeral, alleging that their only interest in it would be "traffic management".

But behind the scenes, police have held a series of high-level meetings to ensure the event passes off without recrimination from McGraw's rivals.

While many lining the funeral route will just be curious onlookers, others know that they will have to make sure they are seen to be paying their final respects to the man whom they once feared.

These petty criminals understand that their presence will be noted and any absentees are going to have to have a very good reason as to why they were not present at the farewell.

Because, despite McGraw's criminal influence being on the wane for the past few years, his name and associates still carry a considerable amount of weight among the seedier members of society.

His organisation has been split up among criminal players who still hold on to a sort of code where respect is central.

McGraw was killed by a heart attack last Monday as he sat in his home in the city's Mount Vernon district. An unexpectedly quiet end for a hoodlum who came to personify the brutality of Glasgow's criminality.

His funeral will undoubtedly be contrasted with the final journey of one of his infamous predecessor's, Arthur Thompson snr in 1993.

He was the man who, in the Sixties, came to be synonymous with the term "Godfather".

According to legend, it was Thompson snr who single-handedly turned back the Krays when they arrived at Glasgow Central Station in order to take over the city.

McGraw never had that aura although his name was, over three decades, to become equally familiar to the citizens of Glasgow.

But the main reason McGraw became infamous was the repeated but always unsubstantiated claims that he was a police informant.

This, it is rumoured, is how he acquired his nicknamed, the Licensee, because he was licensed by Glasgow's finest to do what he wanted.

Born Thomas McGrow - he thought McGraw easier to pronounce - in Lennoxtown on the outskirts of Glasgow, he had, by the age of 12 already become a petty thief and shoplifter.

Not physically strong, he was a smart individual who soon realised that his organisational skills could be just as important as a fist.

He was behind the formation of the Bar-L team, a notorious squad of armed robbers - named after the Barlanark area of Glasgow from where most of them originated - who targeted post offices throughout the west of Scotland during the 1970s.

It was around this time that he acquired the name the Licensee. Following a botched raid on a social club, McGraw was arrested and it seemed was destined for an appearance in the High Court, but within days he had been released without charge and nothing more was ever heard of the matter.

However, he was in the dock in 1978 when he was accused of attempting to murder a policeman but the trial ended in him walking from the High Court in Glasgow a free man after the jury acquitted him.

It was then that McGraw began to move up in the criminal world and began broadening his contacts.

Drugs were becoming in vogue and never one to miss an opportunity, the Licensee took full advantage.

In 1998, he was charged along with a number of others, including his brother-in-law, John Healy, after police seized cannabis worth 260,000 hidden on board a boys' football team bus.

McGraw stood trial but walked on a not-proven verdict. Healy was not so lucky and was jailed for 10 years, prompting a feud which lasted until the day McGraw died.

One of McGraw's most ardent critics has been Paul Ferris, perhaps the most infamous criminal character in Scotland since Thompson snr.

A one-time heavy for Thompson, he stood trial for the murder of the Godfather's son, Arthur jnr, known to everyone as "Fatboy", who was shot dead in 1991.

The night before Arthur jnr's funeral, two of Ferris' pals, Joe "Bananas" Hanlon and Bobby Glover, were shot dead in an apparent revenge attack.

According to underworld sources, the victims' bodies were personally mutilated by Thompson snr at The Caravel bar in Barlanark - owned and run by McGraw. Within hours of the desecrations taking place, the pub had mysteriously burned to the ground.

McGraw was also implicated in the so-called "Ice Cream Wars", which resulted in the deaths of six members of the Doyle family, who burned to death in their home in Glasgow's Ruchazie district in 1984.

Never charged, the Licensee's name was never far away from the murders whenever they were discussed.

With every episode and every judicial escape, McGraw's name and status was increased. His power, wherever it came from, seemed to be all-encompassing and by his very reputation new opportunities would present themselves.

Always careful to keep well away from whichever illegal commodity he was involved with, whether it be drugs, firearms or money-laundering, McGraw came to believe in his own invincibility.

But crime, like any business, is a constantly moving and changing world, and the time of the old-style crime lord, relying on reputation and the threat of force, was beginning to alter.

The police, too, were starting to get wise to McGraw and the constant claims that he was "in their pocket" were becoming an irritant.

A new breed of policeman, university-educated, untainted by the streets, began to emerge and the presence of the Licensee and what he stood for was about to end.

He became one of the main targets for the then newly formed Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, which quickly realised that hitting criminals in the pocket was the most efficient way of targeting them.

His assets were frozen, his front companies used to "clean" his dirty cash were closed down and his associates who were less fortunate at avoiding the law were rounded up and put behind bars.

People began to see him not as "untouchable" and imperious but just a middle-aged criminal whose time was coming to an end.

When Glasgow says farewell to McGraw, it will undoubtedly be an occasion of kitsch, excess and the surreal - and the city is unlikely to see the likes of it again.