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14/04/00 - Kenneth Noye - the full story

Today one of Britain's most ruthless criminals is back behind bars for the murder of Stephen Cameron, stabbed to death by an M25 sliproad in 1996. Noye: 'south London villian with B-movie face' The verdict against Kenneth Noye will come as a relief for all those whose lives have been blighted by a man with a history of terrible violence; not least the family of police officer Dc John Fordham, who died after being stabbed 10 times by Noye. Fifteen years ago they had watched an Old Bailey jury acquit Noye of murder on the grounds of self-defence and saw him freed.

Underworld legend

The man whose ability to stay one step ahead of justice made him an underworld legend, was finally tracked down to a secluded part of Spain favoured by Nazi war criminals. As Noye left the dock today to start another term in jail - he served just over seven years of a 14-year sentence for his role in the £27 million Brink's-Mat gold bullion robbery - it was a new low in a life of crime that began as a spoilt only child. At the age of three he pinched apples from a neighbour's garden - breaking his nose, which was to give him his distinctive boxer's profile - and at five stole money from a cashier's till at Woolworth's.

So determined was the young Noye to create a hard image that his mother did not find out his nose was broken until a visit to the doctor three weeks later. "The Woolworth's story has gone down in family history. No one's ever forgotten it, particularly as Kenny grew up to have such a love of money," said cousin Graham Noye. He was brought up by parents Edith and James, who was a GPO engineer but now manages to run a new Mercedes with the personalised number plate JIMMO.

Protection racket

By the age of 11, Noye was bored by lessons and discipline at Bexleyheath secondary modern school and picked on smaller pupils to run a dinner money protection racket. One fellow pupil, still wary of being identified, said: "Everyone knew Noye was bad news and, to be honest, the majority of us spent most of our time trying to stay out of his way. He was evil, getting involved with him was not worth the bother. Even now talking about him makes me feel uncomfortable." Fellow former pupil Mick Marshall, 51, added: "He was vile. He didn't give a damn who he hurt, he just made sure when he did it that he wasn't likely to get caught.

He knew he had the knack of getting away with blue murder. I will never forget being about 14 and sitting in the school playground with my lunch when Noye came over. I looked up and before I knew it he had grabbed my egg sandwiches and smashed them into my face, breaking my nose." Noye is driven away from court to begin a life behind bars He added: "There was no reason for him to do it - we'd not fallen out as far as I can remember - and all he did when he saw me covered in blood was laugh. He got a kick out of physical violence." From here he graduated to stealing bikes, stripping them down and selling them on, and the police soon came to know him as shoplifter and fence for stolen car parts.

He even met his wife through crime, chatting to legal secretary Brenda Tremain while he waited to see a barrister who would defend him on charges of theft and assaulting a policeman. Six years later, in September 1970, they married in Slade Green. As he moved into shifting jewellery, cars, bits of gold, he cultivated police contacts - acting as informant in exchange for future favours - as much as underworld ones and joined the Masons.

Millionaire status

Relentlessly progressing towards millionaire status behind the facade of a haulage company he had set up, Noye bought a 26-acre site in West Kingsdown but could not gain planning permission to pull down a bungalow on the land. To no one's surprise it mysteriously burned down. Here Noye was to build the five-bedroom Hollywood Cottage with grounds in which he was later to stab Dc Fordham to death. He was no one's idea of a good neighbour, stealing a chunk of garden from a 94-year-old woman next door and allowing his pack of rottweilers to terrorise the neighbourhood. Civil servant Murray Soanes said the terror Noye invoked led him to sell his house and eventually wrecked his marriage.

"We had been living in Hollywood Lane for eight years when all this blew up and we had to get out. That's what you call fear. We had a beautiful 600ft garden but Noye's dogs kept getting in and killing my chickens. They weren't nice dogs and they were out of control. "I thought about talking to him but all the neighbours told me it was not advisable so the only option was to call the police. What I didn't realise is that they would tell Noye because they didn't want to go and see him either. As a result he ended up on my doorstep basically telling me to keep my nose out. It was enough to make us feel very threatened. Within 10 days the house was on the market. Although some people think Noye is a petty crook who got in too deep I can assure you he is not the type of bloke you want to live next to."

Heist of the century

At 6.30 on 26 November 1983 armed raiders stole £27million of gold in the Brink's-Mat robbery at Heathrow Airport. It changed the life of Kenneth Noye for ever. It was called the heist of the century. Six of the London's hardest criminals forced their way into the Heathrow warehouse by threatening to set fire to a security guard and made off with what they found. Only expecting to discover £3 million in gold bars, the gold and other bullion they actually found exceeded their dreams. Noye was asked to melt down and help sell it and, for a while, it was said that most modern jewellery sold in London contained part of a Brink's-Mat gold bar. By 1985 police had identified Noye as a key member of the gang.

But when Noye discovered undercover detective Mr Fordham in the grounds of his Kent home, he stabbed him to death. From then on Noye and the rest of the Brink's-Mat gang were hunted remorselessly. Police were to find 11 bars of the gold under an empty paint tin in Noye's garage which he was accused of preparing to launder. In 1985 Noye was cleared of murder - but a year later jailed for 14 years at the Old Bailey for handling the Brink's-Mat bullion and evading £1 million of VAT. He had pleaded not guilty, although more than a decade later he was to pay £3 million back to the insurers. As he was found guilty he yelled at the jury: "I hope you all die of cancer."

Police respect

Part of Noye's mystique lay in his ability to command fear and respect among police and the underworld in equal measure, keeping contacts on both sides of the law. Even detectives treated him carefully. "If I crossed him, he'd do my legs," one said. "Simple as that." Another said: "He was a knife-man. Always carried one. We found switchblades and flick knives all over his house and grounds when Fordham was killed. Some people had shooters. Kenny always had a knife. I think he liked to get close up."

But Noye was also opportunist. When he met the insurers working to claw back the £27 million of stolen Brink's-Mat gold, he helped lead them to the rest of the gang. In the process he saved his £500,000 house, his wife's Dartford squash club and his interests in a cafe and the haulage company in West Malling. Even in prison, where he served - only seven and a half years of his 14-year sentence, Noye stayed lucky, soon securing the cushiest job going, as a gym instructor. A fitness fanatic who played badminton day and night, it was among the bench presses and dumbbells at Swaleside prison that Noye befriended Pat Tate, a violent ecstasy dealer who was shot dead in a Range Rover parked on an Essex farm track in December 1995.

Revered in prison

One policeman said: "From the day he arrived to the day he left no one laid a finger on him or even said a bad word to his face. Noye was revered." But he was hated too. Last year the Evening Standard met the son of one of the Brink's-Mat robbers in a south-east London pub. When Noye's name was mentioned the man's knuckles whitened. Kathy McAvoy, the wife of "Mad" Mickey McAvoy the leading Brink's-Mat robber, described Noye as "an idiot", and said many of the robbery team hated him and expressed her "sympathy" for his wife Brenda. Many of the former gang still want to know where their share of the gold went. Others in the criminal fraternity feel they were hounded by police because of their association with the man who killed a fellow officer.

Even before his official release from his part in the £27million Brink's-Mat robbery he was under investigation by police and Drug Enforcement Agency officers from Miami for a major cocaine smuggling operation. He was also suspected of a link with the execution of car dealer Nick Whiting, found dead on Rainham Marshes in 1990 - despite his tearful protestations in the witness box in the Cameron trial that unknown others and/or the police had killed this totally innocent man - and the murder of private eye Daniel Morgan in a Sydenham pub car park in 1987.

It was into this atmosphere of suspicion and fearful mistrust that he was released from prison in the summer of 1994, almost two years before the stabbing of Mr Cameron. While inside, a memorial to Mr Fordham had been erected at the end of Noye's road - it was to be mysteriously vandalised one night. This annoyed Brenda Noye so much she persuaded her husband to put Hollywood Cottage on the market for £1million and bought a new house in Sevenoaks.

Destroyed evidence

On his release Noye was not happy with her choice and spent thousands on new security equipment, including surveillance cameras linked to TV monitors in three rooms, new bolts and locks on all the outside entrances and floodlights for the grounds. Once he had stabbed Mr Cameron, Noye used all his cunning and criminal contacts to destroy evidence and to be airlifted out of the country on a friend's private helicopter and then plane to southern Spain. Now Britain's "Most Wanted Man", he set up home in a secluded part of southern Spain where Nazi war criminals had hidden from justice 50 years ago.

It was only covert monitoring by MI5 and GCHQ which finally bought to justice the gold smuggling police-killer. While Noye was said to have been spotted anywhere from Northern Cyprus to Russia and Dubai to the Canaries he was, in fact, just a 90-minute drive from the "Costa del Crime" where British villains had taken refuge since the expression was invented. It was on the Costa Da Luz that "Mickey the builder", a man who did not speak Spanish but always had a huge wad of cash to hand, hid out while on the run, passing from bar to bar, dining in the local restaurants and juggling his complicated love life.

At any one time this included his wife who was back in Britain refusing to divorce him but regularly dropping in, girlfriend Mina Al Taiba, 38, a Spaniard of French-Lebanese extraction whom he had met in Amsterdam, and divorcée Sue McNichol-Outch from Beckenham, who has a teenage son and a catwalk model daughter Emma who has worked for leading fashion designers such as Stella McCartney.

Dark past

At the Las Dunas bar, resident artist Casimiro Corrales remembers Noye as a popular figure drinking Canary Islands rum and Coke and playing pool - but one whose dark past was never far away. "He would shake everyone's hand and buy a drink for the whole bar, but he would never tell anyone his name," said Mr Corrales. "The way he walked and looked at you was threatening and you never felt at ease in his company. I commented to people that he must have a violent history, but no one believed me then.

I wasn't surprised when he was arrested." One of his favourite restaurants was La Sal run by Rosario Alvarez at the upmarket Atlanterra development just outside Zahara de los Atunes. "He enjoyed good food and wine and told me he was a builder. He called himself Mike. He would come here with other English people and introduced me to his wife and son," he said. Mr Alvarez's one time partner, German hanglider Miguel Leffler, 30, said Noye was particularly guarded about his past. "Mike didn't speak any Spanish, so I would chat with him in English but he wouldn't unwind and resented any questions about his personal life. I thought that was quite strange because it is normally easy to make friends with foreigners here."

Noye bought a beach hut behind Las Dunas for Mina, his lover until his arrest, and a villa in Atlanterra which he registered in the name of a company Truntong Sociedad Limitada as a tax dodge - he paid cash both times. He hired local workmen under builder Jose Gomez to install a new kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, lounge and office and build a swimming pool and double garage. "Mickey always paid cash. He would turn up every afternoon to see how the job was going. He didn't speak any Spanish but just said 'muy caro, muy caro' [very expensive]," he remembers. "He told me he was a salesman for Mitsubishi and could save me 500,000 pesetas on the price of a jeep. When he was arrested I was still owed three million pesetas for the work done."

Drug running

While in Spain he was suspected of drug running from Morocco to the deserted beaches around his new home and often made trips to Amsterdam, the drug capital of Europe. Police refuse to confirm how closely they had Brenda monitored and the network of phone taps and covert surveillance they kept on Noye's cronies through the security services but in August 1998 they felt confident enough to move in and watch as first Danielle Cable positively identified him as the man who stabbed her boyfriend and then Spanish police arrested him.

Four years ago Evening Standard reporter Nigel Rosser asked a senior detective to describe exactly what Kenneth Noye was like. The policeman looked him up and down and replied: "A middle-class boy like you? Absolutely your worst nightmare." In Noye's 52 years, there are too many who have had to learn that the hard way.

Contact : bernard.omahoney@bernardomahoney.com
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