The Independent - UK
Life and times of Britain's most infamous villain
13 April 2000
By Kim Sengupta and Paul Lashmar
The life of Kenneth Noye has been one of malevolence and corruption. It is an example of how someone eagerly embracing crime as a profession can accumulate enormous wealth and frightening power. It is also a lesson on how vulnerable society can be to such a single-minded predator.
Noye, aged 53, is the most infamous villain in Britain. The essential difference between him and other gangland figures such as the Krays and the Richardsons is that he had the vision and the means to infiltrate legitimate business.
From a suburban lifestyle and background in Kent, Noye carried on, what appeared on the surface, to be normal business activities, dealing in cars, property and timeshares.
Behind this front, the burgeoning empire was underpinned by an elaborate network of fraud. It enabled his financial tentacles to extend outside Britain to post-communist Eastern Europe, the United States, Latin America, Spain and Cyprus, with a rogues' gallery of partners ranging from the mafia to Asil Nadir.
At the same time Noye was involved in some of the most high profile crimes in this country, investing heavily in drug smuggling and robberies, insurance scams and swindles.
Noye's success as a criminal is especially remarkable because he survived two shattering reverses - his trial in November 1985 for the killing of undercover police officer John Fordham, of which he was acquitted and his subsequent 14 year prison sentence for laundering gold from the £26million Brinks Mat robbery in 1983.
Apart from the aggravation of the prison term for Brinks Mat, the two trials brought him something he had studiously avoided - being in the public eye. Unlike the self-aggrandisement of some gangland figures, Noye eschewed publicity. There would be no celebrity photos of him such as those taken by David Bailey of the Krays.
Indeed, those who took pictures of Noye at social functions were intimidated into handing them over. As his cousin Michael Noye pointed out: "Kenny didn't like any photos of himself floating around. He knew that if people outside his own circle didn't know what he looked like, then he would be able to move around much more easily."
After his release from prison, in May 1994, Noye was soon back in the crime business with his financial empire flourishing more than ever. But then came the fatal encounter on a slip road off the M25 in June 1996 which resulted in the murder of Stephen Cameron, Noye's flight to Spain and the beginning of the end of his criminal empire.
There is little in Kenneth James Noye's roots to suggest the path he would take. His family was not from inner city Deptford or Lewisham, the breeding ground for so many south London villains. He was born in Bexleyheath on 24 May 1947. His father James was a GPO engineer and his mother Edith, who worked three days a week at the Crayford dog track, was from a church-going family.
Mrs Noye could never think ill of her little Kenny, even when he was caught stealing money from a till at the local branch of Woolworths. At the age of 11, Kenny enrolled at Bexleyheath Secondary Modern, and his juvenile criminal activities took a more serious turn. His early criminal career was responsible for his distinctive broken nose - although it was acquired in doing nothing more serious than trying to steal apples from a neighbour's tree at the age of three.
At school, he showed the characteristics of his later life, outwardly keeping out of trouble, not attracting the attention of the teachers, but at the same time running a protection racket among fellow pupils and terrorising them with bullying.
One of them, Mick Marshall, now 51, recalled how Noye revelled in violence: "He was vile. He didn't give a damn who he hurt. But everyone knew Kenny had a knack of getting away with blue murder."
Noye was soon attracting the attention of the police for receiving stolen goods, shoplifting even smuggling beef carcasses. It was while waiting in legal chambers on one such matter that he met his future wife, Brenda Tremain, who was working as a legal secretary. The couple got married on 12 September 1970. They have two sons, Kevin and Brett.
By now Noye was on the fringes of heavy crime. He would regularly go to the Hilltop Hotel near his home where the then aristocracy of gangland, the Krays and the Richardsons, the Haywards, Frankie Fraser and others would gather to drink Dom Perignon and watch the cabaret.
Noye built up a reputation as a "fence" who could shift anything and an "armourer" who could provide guns. He also began to take a keen interest in gold, pumping his cousin Graham Noye, who worked at the Bank of England, for information on how it was traded. Soon he was into VAT fraud on gold importation which had the double advantage of enormous profit and a maximum sentence of just two years.
In 1977 after being arrested by Scotland Yard for receiving stolen goods he joined a Freemasons' Lodge which had a large number of police officers among its membership.
Business was going well for Noye, he was mixing with " first division" villains such as John " Little Legs" Lloyd and Freddie Foreman. He now had access to enough money to be able to fly to Miami with £50,000 in cash to invest in land. That one deal alone resulted in profit for Noye and his associates of £600,000.
But the really big money came from gold smuggled in from Africa, from Kuwait and from Brazil. Between 1982 and 1984 Noye ran smuggling operations worth an amazing £35million. Noye's own cut came to just under £4.5million. He was in his element.
Opening the front door of his house, Hollywood Cottage, in West Kingsdown, Kent, triggered a stereo blasting out Shirley Bassey singing the theme tune to the James' Bond film "Goldfinger". There were expensive clothes, jewelry and limousines. Noye bought his wife Brenda a squash club. For himself he acquired a procession of blonde and brassy mistresses, some of whom were partners of his friends and associates.
Making money, in however petty a way, remained his obsession. Despite his millions he illicitly extracted electricity for his house and stole a piece of garden furniture from his 94-year-old neighbour.
On 26 November 1983 came the then biggest heist in British criminal history - the Brinks Mat raid at Heathrow Airport. The gang included notorious London underworld figures "Little legs" Lloyd, Micky McAvoy and Brian Robinson who were all essentially robbers and did not how to shift such a huge amount of loot. That task was Noye's forte.
There was general unease among some of the robbers and their families. Kathy McAvoy, Micky's second wife, explained: " Noye wasn't from south-west London. He was from the suburbs and that's just not the same. Noye wasn't the real thing and he knew the rest of us thought that."
On the trail of the missing gold, the police soon homed in on Noye and surveillance began on his mock-Tudor home. The operation led to the death of Detective Constable John Fordham, stabbed four times by Noye, who was accompanied by gold courier and fellow Brinks Mat suspect Brian Reader.
At his Old Bailey trial Noye pleaded self-defence, the same defence used in the killing of Stephen Cameron. He was acquitted.
Noye had told the court he had been alerted by his Rotweiller dogs to intruders in his garden. The intruders were actually Mr Fordham and another detective trying to gather evidence. A struggle ensued.
Neil Murphy, who was Fordham's surveillance partner on the night, said he had tried to distract Noye by shouting. But to no avail. Mr Murphy said: "Noye also had a gun, I could hear him shouting 'we will blow your head off'. I could see figures standing over John's body. Afterwards, in the ambulance, I could see John's chest going up and down. I said ' look, he is breathing! ', but the ambulanceman said it was just the oxygen."
A search of the home uncovered 11 bars of gold, copper coins used in smelting and, bizarrely, a Guinness Books of Record with the entry on the robbery circled.
One of the officers who interviewed Noye after his arrest was Det Chief Supt Brian Boyce. Although not a freemason Mr Boyce greeted Noye with a masonic handshake to put him at ease. Noye offered Mr Boyce £1m to ensure he did not go to prison.
The detective declined, and reported the conversation. Following Noye's acquittal on the Fordham murder charge, Mr Boyce was one of the guiding forces in charging him with the Brinks Mat handling.
Noye was then tried along with six others for the Brinks Mat job. He was found guilty and sentenced to four years for handling stolen goods. At the verdict his mask of a legitimate businessman slipped as he turned to the jury, his face contorted with rage before spitting out: "I hope you die of cancer."
Once in Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight, Noye quickly began to manipulate the system. He offered information on the Brinks Mat robbery in return for a reduced sentence. This was turned down. He ended up getting a comfortable job as a gym orderly, and cultivated prison officers, giving a £600 wrist watch to one for his wife's birthday.
Such was the bonhomie that after Noye's release he was visited by two prison officers escorting another prisoner, a friend of Noye's Derek Kandler, to a weight lifting competition. Noye took them to a Thai restaurant for a meal.
While inside, Noye was planning his move back into lucrative criminality. He had been forced to return nearly £3million of Brinks Mat proceeds, in return for no claims being made against his home. The quick way back to illicit wealth, he decided, was drugs.
While at Latchmere, a 'halfway house' where he finished his sentence, Noye was already involved in a £50,000 cocaine deal with the Miami mafia. He was almost caught, but managed to avoid arrest thanks to a tip off from a corrupt officer in the National Crime Intelligence Service.
But there were plenty of other opportunities. At another jail, Swaleside, Noye had befriended Pat Tate, a tattooed, muscle bound, 18 stone drug dealer from Essex, who acted as his protector. At Tate's suggestion, Noye invested £30,000 on an ecstasy shipment. He made a quick £70,000 profit. Police claim that ecstasy from part of this batch which led to the death of the teenager Leah Betts.
Tate was killed soon afterwards, shot dead along with two other men in a Range Rover parked in a secluded country lane near Chelmsford in December 1995. This wasn't the only casualty among associates of Noye. Nick Whiting, a car dealer, went missing from his showroom in West Kingsdown in 1990. His body was later recovered on Rainham Marshes, in Essex.
Immediately after his release, Noye spent a month in Northern Cyprus where he met Asil Nadir, the former boss of Polly Peck who is wanted in Britain on fraud charges. Nadir allegedly offered Noye a job working for him, which he turned down. Various business opportunities were discussed to exploit what was seen as the area's impending tourist boom, and Noye invested in a timeshare development.
But other business opportunities beckoned back in Britain, including a plot to swindle £1billion out of cash point machines. It was led by "Little Legs" . According to one former member of the gang, Martin Grant, Noye put money into the venture and then threw a pre-operation party at a Kent hotel at which six high-charging prostitutes were present. Noye boasted later that he had gone to bed with each of them. The plot collapsed. Other members of the gang went to prison. There was not, however, enough evidence to charge Noye. Yet again, it appeared, he had been warned off just in time.
In April 1996, Noye was once again in Northern Cyprus, accompanied by his latest mistress, Sue McNichol-Outch. She had become his regular companion. He again met Nadir and visited his timeshare development near Famagusta. The couple returned in time to explore Noye's latest business venture, importing £500,000 of the drug, Khat, from Africa.
But a month later came the murder of Stephen Cameron and, then in 1998, his arrest in Spain. His long suffering wife Brenda has now left him, moving to Cornwall. She has a new man in her life, fisherman David Collings, although she turned up at the trial to give evidence on behalf of her husband.
Those who know Noye say that once again he will try to manipulate his way through the system. But this time the combination of charm, bribery and menace is unlikely to work. The violence he so readily unleashed against others was his final undoing.