This article provides a single case study of a British organised crime network operational from the late-1980s to 1996. The network centred around three security firms which spanned the ‘spectrum of legitimacy’ by legally providing security for licensed venues, whilst taxing and protecting drug dealers, and/or selling drugs in the nightclubs they protected. All three firms employed violence to prevent the encroachment of competitors and extort licensed businesses. Debt collection services were also used as a front for extortion. Actors were individually or collaboratively engaged in: the running of brothels and extortion of sex workers, robbery of drug dealers, burglary, the importation of drugs, and unlawful influence. At least three of the activities (robber, violence and unlawful influence) served a dual purpose: (1) To achieve immediate and tangible goals, such as preventing the encroachment of competing security firms, avoiding prosecution, and material gain; (2) To achieve more distant and abstract goal of creating, maintaining or inflating violent reputations.
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The lack of academic contribution is most evident in a review by Wright (2006) of organised crime in the UK. The review relies almost entirely on journalistic sources, with the exception of Dick Hobbs's (1995) London based ethnographic account. This said, Hobbs (2012) recent study on British organised crime does help fill the void. In addition, while the discussion here focuses on the more working class variation of organised crime (see Hobbs 2012), there has been some work on middle, and upper, class offenders which could come under the organised crime banner (see Ruggiero 2007; Levi 2002; Middleton and Levi 2004).
This article takes as a starting point the definition of an organised crime group provided under international law of a ‘… structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences established in accordance with this Convention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit’ (UN 2004: Article 2[a]). For an in-depth definitional debate please refer to Jay Albanese (1996) and James Finckenauer (2005).
The Firm attracted widespread media attention after three of its core members were assassinated. Tuckers Firm, and the triple murder, have been the focus of three films (Bonded by Blood; Essex Boys; Rise of the Footsoldier), two of which are based on the (auto)biographies upon which this paper is founded.
Hobbs and colleagues (2003: 111) were similarly told by doorstaff they interviewed: ‘If you’ve got control of the door you can sell your drugs’.
In the nightclub protected by O’Mahoney drugs were procured from social networks (Independent 1996) as well as security facilitated floor sales. As several studies have found that the majority of consumers at dance events acquire drugs from social networks, it is likely that floor sales represented a minor source of drugs (Forsyth 1996; Measham et al. 2001; Parker 2000).
Tucker also owned a health-food shop in Ilford where he sold steroids illegally to bodybuilders, alongside sports equipment and health food (Leach 2003).
Smith (2000) describes how money was also pooled for the importation of ecstasy.
Leach (2003) had been a member of the West Ham Inter-City football hooligan firm. During the 1980s/early-1990s, several former football hooligans, like Leach, exploited the emergence of illegal raves by offering their services as security, before moving into the provision of security for licensed venues: successfully manoeuvring themselves from ‘violent entrepreneurial delinquency’ into ‘independent, working-class businessmen’ (Hobbs 2012: 120; see Pritchard and Parker 2011).
This is not to say that such violence was purely instrumental. As Hobbs (2012) reminds us, the boundaries between ‘personal and commercial violence’ are often blurred. This is apparent with the abuse levelled at Ellis which, while used to secure and maintain their reputation, is described by Ellis, Leach and O’Mahoney as distinctly personal: Ellis ‘had become an obsession with Tony…. Tony, Pat and Craig were hell-bent on making Willis [Ellis] suffer for the bodged-up travellers‘ cheques’ (Leach 2003: 163).
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The author would like to thanks John Blake Publishing and Mainstream Publishing for providing permission to use the three autobiographies, Bernard O’Mahoney for taking the time to discuss the paper, and the reviewers for their helpful comments.
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Windle, J. Tuckers firm: a case study of British organised crime. Trends Organ Crim 16, 382–396 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-013-9201-9
- Spectrum of legitimacy
- Moralistic robbery
- Private security
- Debt collection