26 January 2015 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the death of detective constable John Fordham. A 45-year-old married father of three children working for the Met Police’s Flying Squad, Fordham was detailed by detective chief superintendent Boyce to stake-out the grounds of Hollywood Cottage – a large mock-Tudor pile in WestKingsdown near Brands Hatch, Kent.
Fordham was no ordinary copper. Trained by the British Army’s 14th Intelligence Company, known as”‘the Det”, Fordham gained his experience with this secretive unit carrying out surveillance operations in Northern Ireland. For Fordham’s mark was no ordinary man, he was Kenneth Noye.
Along with other criminals such as notorious north London thug Tommy Adams and bent brief Michael Relton, Kenny Noye and the “Gold Conduit” (which included gold dealer John Palmer and minicab boss Brian Perry) were involved in laundering the proceeds of the Brinks Mat bullion robbery.
Back in 1983, 6,400 marked ingots of high purity gold worth £25,911,962 were stolen from a warehouse near Heathrow. Diamonds, platinum and travellers cheques swelled the haul to £26,369,778.
Noye and his associates resmelted the gold to sell-off as genuine through Scadlynn Limited, a Bristol based bullion firm. £10.5 million of gold was turned into cash through the Bedminster branch of Barclays bank.
However, the real brains behind this scheme was Michael Relton. Through his company Selective Estates, this solicitor with minicab boss/gangster Brian Perry and the feared south London Arif family went on to wash the cash through a complicated network of offshore bank accounts in Belgium, the British Virgin Islands, the Channel Islands, Liechtenstein, the Isle of Man, Panama, Switzerland and the US.
Like something out of The Long Good Friday, cash was also cleaned through the ‘right to buy’ council house scheme and the London Docklands Development Corporation. Aided by the property boom, Relton managed to turn £7.5 million into a property empire worth £18 million. One wharf alone rose in value from £4 million to £6 million over the course of a year.
At around 18:15 hours on 26 January 1985, the security gates guarding Noye’s grand Hollywood Cottage were seen opening to let in a certain Briain Reader, who had been observed in the company of Tommy Adams. Detective Constable John Fordham was ordered to see what was going on.
Unfortunately, Fordham’s presence alerted the attention of Noye’s three Rottweiler dogs. Noye rushed outside armed with a kitchen knife to be confronted by Fordham dressed in military fatigues and a balaclava. Fordham was killed in the ensuing fight.
Kent constabulary initially took over the resultant murder inquiry. Now the story turns into a tale from Ashes to Ashes. The Flying Squad had photographed Noye in the company of a senior Kent police officer involved in the investigation of the 1981 Bluebell Hill security van robbery. £900,000 had been stolen on this occasion. According to a informant, the six men involved in this heist received £130,000 a piece. The remainder went off to pay crooked Kent cops.
Detective Chief Superintendent Boyce’s Flying Squad team managed to gain control of the investigation when 11 gold bars were found in the grounds of Hollywood Cottage. Boyce, however, believed that the murder investigation had been compromised. For example, following Noye’s arrest, he was allowed to shower and change his clothes – without a police officer of doctor being present.
To the delight of conspiracy theorists, Noye was also the registered informant of the Met commander Ray Adams. Both were on the square. When Noye was first interviewed by Boyce, he offered a £1 million bung to secure his freedom and mentioned Adams as a reference of good character.
Ray Adams’s name had been mentioned in conjunction with corruption dating back to the early 1970s. Or he may have invested wisely: he owned a £450,000 home and a £100,000 villa in Portugal. In conversation with investigative journalists Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn:
Adams also talked about his relationship with his informant Kenny Noye. Enigmatically, he referred to being “asked to do something [during the Brinks investigation] at a senior level” soon after Noye had been arrested for the Fordham murder. Adams said it was an assistant commissioner at the Yard who had asked him and he now “regrets” doing it because it led to his aggravation with CIB2 [the police’s Complaints Investigation Bureau].
Adams is more than likely referring to his secret meeting with Noye sanctioned by the Home Office and said to have taken place in the cells at Lambeth Magistrates Court. Noye was asked to help locate the gold bullion. What the quid pro quo was is not clear. At the very least, presumably, Noye was offered some deal with regard to the murder charge he was facing.
Noye had stabbed John Fordham eleven times. The autopsy showed that most of the wounds were inflicted when Fordham was immobile. The jury found Noye not guilty.
At a later trial, Noye was, however, found guilty of handling the Brinks Mat bullion and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He is currently serving a life sentence for a ‘road rage’ murder. Tommy Adams was found not guilty, while the solicitor Michael Relton received 12 years’ imprisonment. Relton was no fool. On release from prison he bumped into a fellow solicitor who recalls:
When Michael Relton got 12 years I thought that’s an eternity. He came out after four or five and I met him quite by chance. I said, “Michael I thought we’d never see you again. Did you save anything from the shipwreck?” He gave a wry smile and said, “Well, a little.”
Commander Ray Adams was cleared of any impropriety with Noye and left the Met after 31 years’ service in 1993 with a bad back.
At least half of the Brinks Mat gold hasn’t been traced and a great deal of the proceeds are believed to have been used to flood Britain with drugs, especially ecstasy, from the late 1980s. Over twenty lives have been claimed in this sorry saga of violent robbery, freemasonry and police corruption. Two merit a brief mention.
On 10 March 1987, private investigator Daniel Morgan was found murdered in the car park of the Golden Lion pub, Sydenham. With the handle wrapped in elastoplast to prevent slippage, the axe was buried so deep into Morgan’s head that it fused with his cheekbone.
Morgan’s business partner Jonathan Rees, by coincidence a freemason, was the last man to see him alive. A detective sergeant, Sid Fillery, interviewed Ress soon after the murder. The two were drinking companions. Fillery allowed Rees to leave the police station with neither his car nor clothes being subject to a forensic examination. Morgan’s desk diary for 1987 mysteriously vanished.
Three weeks later, Rees, his two crooked brothers-in-law, Fillery and two cops from Catford nick – within whose bounds Morgan was killed – were arrested for murder. The matter was then dropped. Despite five investigations, no one has been convicted for the murder of Daniel Morgan.
It is believed that Morgan was hawking a story around Fleet Street about corrupt south east London police officers. A price tag of £250,000 was mentioned. Apparently detective constable Alan “Taffy” Holmes, who had worked on the Brinks Mat investigation, was one of Morgan’s sources.
Holmes was master of the Manor of Bensham Masonic Lodge, Croydon. Four months after Morgan’s death, Holmes killed himself. According to a journalist, Holmes was “so bent that his police colleagues openly joked that the undertaker wouldn’t be able to straighten him out long enough to nail down the coffin lid.” At his funeral, one wreath bore the tribute: “To our brave, wonderful and worshipful master who chose death rather than dishonour his friends and workmates.”
On the anniversary of John Fordham’s death, it would be depressing to end this blog on a sorry note. In honour of the dangerous work undertaken by detective constable Fordham – once he had to stand up to his neck in water for 48 hours while on a surveillance job – the Fordham Trophy has been presented annually since 2010 ‘to the individual who has made the most significant contribution to surveillance’.
Detective Fordham’s son, also named John, is a member of the Jive Aces, a jive and swing band who appeared on Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 and have performed at the Diamond Jubilee and Olympic celebrations. I’ll leave the last word to John:
When something as devastating as that happens in your life, which it was, you have to pick up the pieces and mend it where you can and carry on with your life. In terms of Noye, I don’t really think about him to be honest with you. I do believe that don’t regret yesterday, life is in you today, and you make your tomorrow.
- Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn, Untouchables: Dirty Cops, Bent Justice and Racism in Scotland Yard (London: Bloomsbury, 2nd edn., 2012).
- Graeme McLagan, Bent Coppers: The Inside Story of Scotland Yard’s Battle against Police Corruption (London: Orion, 2003).
- James Morton, Gangland: The Lawyers (London: Virgin, 2001).
- Martin Short, Inside the Brotherhood: Further Secrets of the Freemasons (London: Grafton, 1990).
- ________, Lundy: The Destruction of Scotland Yard’s Finest Detective (London: Grafton, 1991).