Nailing a crime story on the mean streeets of Nottingham

Colin Gunn has been on our radar for nearly five years. His name has been linked to most high-profile murders and beatings in Nottingham, and the man thought himself untouchable. I first came across him when I became the Nottingham Evening Post’s crime correspondent in 2003. That year, jeweller Marian Bates was shot dead in her shop while trying to protect her daughter from a young gang. Gunn’s name cropped up in the aftermath, but nothing developed.

This became a recurring theme. James Brodie, believed to have shot Bates, disappeared within days – suspected to have been killed for bungling what should have been a straightforward robbery. Again Gunn was linked to the disappearance – and again there were no charges. Since then, witnesses in cases linked to Gunn have been shot for giving evidence, and people who ‘betrayed’his gang have been killed. Gunn was finally charged with organising the murders of John and Joan Stirland on the Lincolnshire coast in 2004.

Their only crime was that Joan’s son Michael had been found guilty of murdering the best friend of Gunn’s nephew. As he awaited trial, Gunn was also charged with police corruption – he had been rewarding a trainee detective with designer suits to find out what intelligence police had on him.

As the charges stacked up, so did the reporting restrictions. We weren’t allowed to report Gunn’s name, even when he was convicted of conspiracy to murder the Stirlands. The police corruption trial was Gunn’s last. He sacked his defence team on the morning of the trial, but still pleaded not guilty.

By now I was news editor, and my deputy was Jacqui Walls, who had been aware of Gunn and his henchmen since covering the Midlands for PA in 2003. We knew our post-trial coverage had to be special. Guy Woodford, our crime correspondent, had a long list of contacts who were only too willing to talk, and so we produced a 32-page special about Gunn and his past.

For a month, Guy and his crime team pounded the streets of Bestwood Estate – Gunn’s home turf – where many locals still stick up for him. They wrote a number of backgrounders using unpublished material from cases stretching back four years. On previous visits to the area, national journalists had been threatened and had their cars vandalised – luckily we avoided this, but we still sent reporters to the area in pairs.

When Gunn was found guilty, we quickly broke the result on the website before publishing a special early morning edition on the Friday, with seven pages of background. As well as our own information, Guy and I used information from pre-trial briefings in which police outlined the 81 operations they had carried out to catch Gunn.

When other major players were taken off the streets by police, Gunn stepped in. The intimidation and protection rackets soon started and we built up a picture of who did what in his criminal set-up. We had a lot of questions to ask the police and they were quite open with us. They admitted criminals were still trying to infiltrate the Notts force and the head of CID told of the death threat he had received.

We printed 14,000 copies of the special and it was on the streets 36 hours after the verdict. Most of them were snapped up that weekend. People were astounded by how far Gunn’s influence spread – how he tortured people who crossed him and had scared others so much they had fled the country. We took advice about how far we went in linking Gunn to a lot of the other crimes for which he hadn’t been charged, but the lawyers were a great help and it made for hard-hitting coverage.

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