'Gangsters ran our estate better than the police'
Richard Pendlebury – Daily Mail June 4, 2007
When the Mafia-style thugs who ran this estate were jailed, a strange thing happened...crime actually went UP! The depressing truth is they deterred crime more effectively than the police
Forty yards from the front door of Peter Brown's home stands a tall pole topped with a battery of CCTV cameras.
These are a crime prevention system designed to monitor the privet hedge-lined thoroughfare 24 hours a day.
Three weeks ago, early in the day, there was a knock on Mr Brown's door. A youth asked him if he wanted to buy some fencing.
Mr Brown (his name has been changed to protect his identity) refused the offer, but noticed another youth peering through his front window.
The duo returned a little later and asked him the same question. In hindsight, it was clear they were attempting to find out if someone was still in the house.
Mr Brown said: "I went to work and didn't think anything more of it.
"But at about 6pm, while I was away, the front door was kicked in, which must have taken some force in itself, and they helped themselves to a laptop, mobile phone and other small items.
"They tried to take away more, but were disturbed and ran off."
Mr Brown called the police, expecting that the incident would have been caught on film by the CCTV cameras.
But, astonishingly, a policeman told him that the CCTV tower had not picked up the brazen, illegal entry.
The officer couldn't explain why the surveillance system had failed.
"Sorry. It's just one of those things," he said, nonchalantly.
This news surprised Mr Brown. In fact, it surprised him far more than the burglary itself.
After all, for him and his neighbours in Raymede Drive, Bestwood, Nottingham, being the victims of housebreakers is a regular occurrence, and one that neither the police nor the latest technology seem capable of reducing.
According to statistics published last week, Nottingham is the most burgled city in Britain.
And, according to another study, Britain is the most burgled country in Europe.
In Nottingham-itself, Bestwood, according to figures, is the city's burglary "hot spot" - making the careworn square mile which is home to 3,300 people Europe's break-in capital.
Certainly, the statistics tell a depressing story.
In April, out of 688 burglaries reported in the city, 141 were in Bestwood and neighbouring Sherwood.
However, only eight of these crimes have been solved - a pathetic detection rate.
In the same month, there were 84 burglaries reported in the same area - a year-on-year increase of 67 per cent.
So if 360-degree CCTV cameras can't prevent Bestwood being the European burglary capital, what on earth will?
The answer is a shocking indictment of law and order in this country and a deep embarrassment for the police.
For many householders in the area say that the greatest deterrent to the casual burglar used to be the presence on the estate of one of Britain's most ruthless crime families.
It was from Bestwood, that this family - who cannot be named for legal reasons - ran a murderous, multi-million pound international operation involving drugs, high-level informants and myriad other offences.
They were ruthless mafia-style operators. For example, if a "foot soldier" in this gang stepped out of line, he would be executed.
In one instance, they allegedly fed a man's body to pigs on a nearby farm.
But a major police effort in the past 18 months has seen two of the main figures in the organisation - both of whom lived in Bestwood - jailed for murder and drugs offences.
And while justice may have been done, the shocking truth is that burglary statistics in Bestwood have gone through the roof since the two were put away - whereas they had been falling.
Locals say it was the absence of the police that enabled the family to take control of the estate, after the uniformed presence was reduced from regular bobbies on the beat to the occasional patrol car.
The family was shown respect - but it was a respect brought about by fear.
For example, when one of the family entered a local shop, the queues at the tills would part to let him through.
In exchange, the family would "look after" the community.
A few years ago, they even spent thousands of pounds on a Guy Fawkes firework display for the estate.
Such an arrangement brings to mind obvious parallels with the Kray twins who ruled over the East End of London during the Fifties and Sixties. As one 56-year-old female Bestwood resident told the Mail: "We were burgled a few years back and didn't get anywhere with the police.
"Then a man from the crime family came around to see us.
"He took his shoes off at the door, came in and sat down and listened to what had happened.
"He said he was very sorry to hear about the break-in and would do everything he could to find those responsible.
"Within a week, I had all my jewellery back and most of the rest of what had been taken."
A 50-year-old resident said of the firework display: "It must have cost a bit and the show gave the area a sense of community which the council never did.
"The council treat us like scum but the family have respect. They have always treated us properly.
"If there was ever a problem on the estate, it was them who you went to see to sort it out."
A 36-year-old said: "There's an old lady down the road in her 90s.
"Every birthday she gets a card from 'the boys' with a bit of cash in it. She thinks they are angels."
Another local said of the rise in the number of break-ins since the crime family was smashed: "There is now an element on the estate causing trouble.
"There are things going on which would have been sorted out by them - they would pull people into line when people were acting out of order in the community."
And yet, at the same time, this was a brutally ruthless crime family who would execute their enemies for a £200 drugs debt with a single shot to the head.
There is no doubt that the family was deeply mired in a considerable amount of violent local crime.
In September 2003, a bungled jewellery robbery in the city centre saw a woman assistant shot dead in a crime that was linked to the family.
Although the man who pulled the trigger was never found, it is said that he was murdered within 48 hours by his gangland bosses and his dismembered body fed to pigs because they feared that, if arrested, he would betray them to the police.
In another example of the family's ruthlessness - and one which ultimately led to their downfall - a man called Michael O'Brien was convicted of murdering the best friend of one of the family's relatives.
The Bestwood family exacted revenge by tracking down and executing O'Brien's mother and stepfather, who had gone into hiding.
The police eventually linked the family to their murders, and one of the senior family members was sentenced to life in jail.
A few months later, the other top boss was also convicted of a serious drugs offence and jailed for nine years.
The news that the family's key criminals were in jail was welcomed by local MP Graham Allen, who said: "This is the last hurrah of the remnants of people who know their time has gone."
However, everyone knows the family's most notorious members won't be in jail for ever.
In any case, there are still small-time members of the family's operation working on the estate.
One resident told the Mail: "A guy came up to me in the street recently and said that I had been causing problems and, if I continued, I would get a bullet in the head."
A senior police officer said: "What happened on the Bestwood estate was unprecedented and certainly something that I have never seen in all my years as a police officer.
"There was an organised crime network which was effectively controlling the entire estate. The police didn't have a look-in.
"This criminal network had a small army behind them, carrying out everything from burglary and robbery to selling drugs on a large scale to extortion, punishment beatings, shootings and ultimately murder against those who stood in their way.
"Clearly the network could not have flourished unless some parts of the community weren't aware of the full scale of their criminality.
"To an extent, they were seen as Robin Hoods by many on the estate."
One of the locals even commented: "There are people who say that the crime family ran the estate better than the police."
Of course, the police strongly refute this view and are working hard to try to make Bestwood's streets safer.
They accept that, for years, Nottingham has been at the top of the crime league tables for gun, car and knife offences and burglary.
In 2005, Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Steve Green controversially admitted that his force was "struggling to cope" with the number of murders, particularly gunrelated.
Nottingham had the unwanted soubriquets "Shottingham" and "Assassination City".
But they claim they have managed to bring down the overall crime statistics - even in Bestwood - for some offences.
And they are rightly proud of the way they successfully tackled the leaders of Bestwood's infamous crime family.
As local councillor Brian Grocock says: "It is important that the estate moves forward now.
"The climate of fear that existed 18 months ago meant that people would not report things that were happening, but now they are gradually beginning to report crimes to the police."
Yet while certain crimes may have fallen, burglaries in the absence of the family gang's law have done exactly the opposite.
And councillor Grocock's words are sadly small consolation to the latest Bestwood victims, such as Ian Petter (whose name has also been changed) whose home has been attacked three times recently.
Or to his neighbour, a 26-year-old ex-soldier who works as a personal trainer and has a wife and young baby, who told me a youth had attempted to burgle his home a month ago.
He said: "One of the forensic officers said that he had been to eight other similar burglaries in the area that day."
It seems that the residents of Bestwood are left with a terrible choice - one not worthy of a civilised society.
Either they accept being continually burgled - or they live in fear of one of Britain's most ruthless and violent crime families.
Last updated 07/06/2007